Once upon a time there was a flabby heart …

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    Once upon a time there was a flabby heart. It sat all inflated and bunchy in the chest cavity of an inert teenager. Rather pressed for space by over-sized and flabby organs like the stomach (a terrible space hog!), the head was always elbowing the ribs for more room.

    All day long this flaccid pump would heave blood through the circulatory system—lub dub, lub dub, obviously with little relish for its job. Life did have its rewards for the heart though. Between a lub and a dub it would pause for a minute to nibble on a few of the fatty acids the stomach was processing. (For all the crowding the over-sized stomach caused, the heart certainly enjoyed all the goodies it put out. Why only today the stomach had processed four milk shakes and three orders of French fries.)

    The flabby heart led a rather peaceful, routine existence and was fairly happy. It could shove the blood around pretty well most of the time, and it had the body it ran well disciplined. When the heart shook with fear at the sight of a long flight of stairs, it could usually talk the person into taking the elevator. If subjected to a short run on the way to the refrigerator from the TV, it would simply pound ferociously against the chest and scream, “Stop this instant!” Usually the person stopped running immediately. And when it was once again in front of the TV munching on those delicious fatty acids, life for the heart seemed just wonderful.

    Resting there in front of the TV, the heart was blissfully unaware it was part of a growing problem. For out there in front of thousands of other TV sets were many more flabby hearts, victims of a lack of exercise and physical conditioning common in today’s convenient society. Even with (and possibly because of) the currently faddish “no sweat” conditioning programs and “30 second” fitness apparatus, America’s, and the world’s, hearts continue to get flabbier and flabbier.

    Was the heart aware of the dangers besetting it?

    Educators warn that students are not as alert and attentive when in poor physical condition. Employers find the output of work decreases as the physical fitness decreases. The heart had probably even overlooked the effect its physical condition had on its spiritual condition. Elder Delbert L. Stapley once said, “There is a close relationship between physical health and spiritual development. … When one’s physical health is impaired by disobedience to God’s eternal laws, spiritual development will also suffer.” (Conference Report, Oct. 1967, p. 74.)

    There is a strong correlation between physical fitness and spiritual fitness. Active Latter-day Saint hearts cannot overlook either.

    Physical fitness is defined differently by different people. To some it may be defined as possessing large muscles. Some define it as the absence of disease. But most experts today are defining fitness in terms of cardiovascular endurance.

    It all comes back to the flabby heart. A strong heart, capable of meeting the demands placed on it, is considered in good condition. True fitness is measured by the condition of the heart, lungs, and blood vessels.

    How do you get your heart in good condition? Exercise. Like it or not, it requires a little sweat. Exercise that doesn’t increase the workload of the heart (increase your pulse) probably won’t do any good for your heart. Also, many “30-second” exercises designed for building big muscles may not condition your heart. For heart conditioning you need to participate in a cardiovascular endurance program like the ones outlined on the cardiovascular endurance program chart. A cardiovascular endurance program is a program designed to increase the strength and efficiency of your heart, lungs, and blood vessels.

    The flabby heart had obviously never heard of a cardiovascular endurance program; it was too busy resting. Then one day the person visited his doctor. The doctor gave him a complete physical and delivered a short but firm lecture on the dangers of being physically unfit. All the talk disturbed the heart, and as the steely cold stethoscope pressed against it, the heart somehow knew its days of delicious fatty acids and complete inactivity were drawing to a close. Resigning itself to this horrible fate, the heart heaved another batch of blood on by and considered resigning, retiring, or just plain going on strike. But instead, it began running.

    Before you begin running you should check with your doctor as the flabby heart did. Make certain you are able to pursue an exercise program, and consult with him on what type of activity would be best suited for you.

    Your doctor will tell you that good cardiovascular endurance activities cause your heart to work at 60 to 70 percent of its capacity for about ten minutes (that is, at about 140 beats per minute for ten minutes). Getting the heart going at this rate and maintaining it for ten minutes usually takes a 30-minute workout. Most doctors recommend such a workout at least three times a week, but the oftener the better.

    Activities that will raise your pulse to 140 are almost endless. Bicycling, jogging, swimming, walking, hiking, running in place, tennis, squash, handball, basketball, and even stair climbing. When choosing an activity to build your program around, remember you’ll have more success if you choose an activity you enjoy. Running in place may be the most convenient activity, but if it bores you to tears it will be a difficult one to continue indefinitely.

    The cardiovascular endurance program chart outlines exercise programs for several activities. When using this chart as a basis for your program, begin with level A and remain on that level until you can meet both the distance and time requirements. Then progress to level B. You should stay on each level at least two weeks before progressing on to the next. You can formulate your own cardiovascular endurance program around any vigorous activity you enjoy. But don’t expect to start right out with a strenuous 30-minute workout; you’ll need to work up to that.

    The flabby heart got busy working toward physical fitness the very next morning after seeing the doctor. And at the beginning it wasn’t too enthusiastic.

    The first time the person ran around the block, the flabby heart decided he’d teach the person a good lesson. He pounded and thumped as hard as he could, making only the required efforts at supplying oxygen, until the person was out of breath, red in the face, and sweating profusely. Thinking the person would forever give up such activity after such abuse, the heart was surprised to be subjected to the same treatment the next day. The person was determined to make his conditioning program successful.

    Two keys to success with any conditioning program are sensibility and consistency.

    First of all, be sensible. Like the flabby heart you may not have had much exercise for a while, so don’t expect to start out on a pro level. If you use the chart included with this article as a basis for your program, start with the lowest level and work up to the top. If you work out your own program for an activity not on the chart, go easy on yourself at first. As you get in better shape, you will have to work longer and harder to get your pulse up to 140 for the recommended ten minutes.

    Also, be sensible when working out. Most doctors and fitness experts recommend a warm-up period before exercising. Start out with a few calisthenics (push-ups, sit-ups, windmills, etc.) to slowly get your heart working before jogging or trying the game of tennis. This warm-up period will limber up muscles and get your blood circulating. With a proper warm-up you will probably skip muscle cramps and pains halfway through the exercise period. And besides limbering you up for action, such a warm-up will also build strength and increase the flexibility of your ligaments and joints.

    Then be consistent. After sensibly beginning your exercise program, be sure to maintain it. Your heart may pound and act resentful at first, but the only successful conditioning program is one that is regular and continued. Intermittent bursts of activity will not condition your heart.

    There are several things you can do to help keep your conditioning program regular. Most people are more successful in carrying out conditioning programs when they have someone to do it with. Organize your family or friends into groups for jogging, swimming, tennis, etc. If you know Joe is waiting for you at the tennis courts three mornings a week, you will make the effort to get there yourself.

    Keep a progress chart. On this chart list the date and the activity you participated in, how far and how long you went, and if you are controlling a weight problem, record your weight. Such a chart will help you visualize where you are going. It can also be a strong reminder if you let a few days slip by without exercise.

    Try to involve your whole family. Dad could probably use a few laps around the block every morning, and Mom might really enjoy a trip to the swimming pool a couple of times a week. Besides giving your parents, brothers, and sisters needed exercise, a family cardiovascular endurance program could become a favorite family event.

    As you progress with your conditioning program, you’ll notice you don’t get tired as easily. As your heart gets in better shape, it will pump more efficiently and slowly. Your blood will have lower levels of those fatty acids that can cause trouble later on in life (surely you’ve heard the older folks whisper about the evils of cholesterol). You should be more energetic, think more clearly, and feel closer to your Father in heaven. After all, you’ll be taking better care of the body he made for you.

    Oh, and if you are wondering what happened to the flabby heart, the person kept on running. Day after day, week after week. It took quite a while for the heart to get used to all that extra work, but soon it found it could really throw the blood around through the arteries. The stomach got smaller, and the heart found it had more room to work in. After several months it was beating more slowly and efficiently and didn’t miss the excess fatty acids at all.

    That was one heart that did live happily ever after.

    Cardiovascular Endurance Program Chart

    Cardiovascular Endurance Program Chart


    Bicycling (3-speed bicycle)

    Jogging (Walking/Running)


    Walking (Hiking)

    Stationary Run 80–90 Steps/min. *

















    200 yds. 300 yds.

    5–7 10+

    1.0 1.5

    15–20 25–30




    2.0 4.0 9.0

    6–8 16–24 54+



    250 yds. 350 yds.

    4–6 9–12

    1.0 1.5 2.0

    12–14 21–23 29–40




    3.0 6.0 13.0

    9–12 24–36 76+

    1.0 1.5

    10–12 18–22

    350 yds. 450 yds. 500 yds.

    6–9 11–15 13–17

    1.5 2.0 3.0

    18–22 27–31 44–60




    4.0 8.0

    12–16 32–48

    1.0 1.5 2.0

    8–10 17–18 24–29

    450 yds. 500 yds. 600 yds. 650 yds.

    8–11 8–12 15–20 16–22

    2.0 2.5 3.0

    24–29 33–38 50–68




    5.0 10.0 11.0

    15–20 40–60 104–120

    1.0 1.5 2.0

    7–8 14–17 24–28

    400 yds. 600 yds. 800 yds. 1200 yds.

    under 7 10–15 20–27 40+

    2.5 3.5 5.0

    30–36 47–58 73–100




    4.0 6.0 12.0

    under 12 18–24 36–48

    1.0 1.5 2.0 2.5 3.0

    6–7 12–15 21–25 28–33 36–43

    500 yds. 700 yds. 850 yds. 1300 yds.

    under 8 12–17 21–28 43+

    3.0 4.0 5.0

    36–43 58–80 73–100




    5.0 8.0 15.0

    under 15 25–33 60–90

    1.5 2.0 2.5 3.0

    10–12 18–22 25–30 34–41

    600 yds. 900 yds. 1200 yds. 1500 yds.

    under 10 15–22 30–40 50+

    4.0 5.0

    53–69 71–97




    1. Distances are in miles unless otherwise specified. Duration is in minutes and seconds.

    2. Levels A–F are written for 5–6 days of activity per week; level G is written for 4 days or more per week.

    3. Options under the same level are approximately equivalent in terms of fitness benefits.

    (Chart adapted and used with the permission of Joyce Harrison from Fitness for Life by Allsen and Harrison [to be published].)

    [illustrations] Illustrated by Julie Fuhriman

    Show References

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      Count only when the left foot contacts the floor.