This Exercise Bike Let Me Finally Enjoy Cardio With a Heart Condition
For years, I crossed off cardio exercise as simply not for me. Now, I've gotten into the best cardio shape of my life.
Ariane Resnick is a special diet chef and certified nutritionist who creates indulgent, seemingly "normal" food out of simple and accessible whole food ingredients. She writes about nutrition, health, wellness, and identity, and creates recipes for brands, including Simply Recipes, Wholesome Sweetener, Livestrong, Lifeway Kefir and The Kitchn.
As someone with a bicuspid, leaky aortic valve, my experience with cardio exercise was a miserable one. I spent my childhood being the slowest runner who was always picked last for sports teams. In my adulthood, I was always focusing on portion control rather than exercise to maintain weight, because cardio activity immediately makes my heart rate skyrocket, landing at a dangerous 200 beats per minute within 5 to 10 minutes. Long before I break a sweat, it's my heart that feels on the verge of breaking. That's why working out was always high on my "no thank you" list.
In recent years, having realized that physical fitness is vital to long-term wellness, I've experimented with assorted modalities, which resulted in little but frustration. Just imagine wanting to know what a real workout feels like, except within a few moments of trying, your heart beats so hard in your chest you worry you might be having a heart attack. When I tried spin classes in studios that use heart monitors, I discovered that in order to keep my heart in an appropriate zone, I had to modify my workout more than was possible in a group setting.
I'd regularly be called out by instructors for not adhering to their instructions. I was accused of taking too many breaks, not working hard enough and not "showing up" for the session. As an introverted person, that made the experience not worth it. Of course, the instructors could have taken a look at the computer screen with everyone's heart rates to see that I was, in fact, working far too hard. I crossed off cardio again as something simply not for me.
When COVID-19 took over life in 2020, I began working out gently at home because the sudden lack of daily activity gave me lower back pain. I discovered I could do moderate strength training (without cardio), and enjoyed following along to YouTube videos with light barbells. I added fitness writing to my lifestyle repertoire, and soon I was offered a MYX Fitness bike. When it arrived, everything in my workout life changed.
MYX is a system similar to Peloton, with a stationary bike and a large screen you use to follow classes. In addition to spin classes, there are other types of cardio, as well as strength training, Pilates, barre and yoga. (That was before the company merged with the wellness streaming platform OpenFit, which now has its online library on the MYX platform, too.) My bike came with assorted weights, a foam roller, resistance bands and more, so I was fully equipped for any type of exercise I wanted to try.
The biggest element of MYX that shifted things for me was the heart monitor. Every MYX bike comes with a Polar OH1 optical heart rate monitor that you wear on your arm and connect to each workout you do -- whether it's an intense hour-long spin session or a breezy 5-minute foam-roller recovery. Your heart activity then shows up on the screen, changing moment to moment. That enabled me to control my activity based on how my heart was handling my workout.
By using equipment with a heart monitor at home, I never have to worry about following instructions or anyone around me -- I'm free to slow down or stop whenever my heart says I need to. As a result, my heart has become stronger and more adept at cardio exercise, and I'm able to increasingly do more without pushing it into a dangerous zone.
Because I'm able to tailor my workout to my health condition, I use the MYX system to bike multiple times a week. I also do strength training, cardio sculpting and stretching on other days. Where I used to have to emotionally gear up for a workout, and experienced endless frustration at cardio limitations due to my heart, now I happily exercise five or six days a week.
Moreover, working out at home is a more enjoyable experience than at a gym or studio. Since I look fit, my "poor" performance in classes always felt embarrassing. I'm also in my mid-40s, so it could get awkward being instructed by women in their early 20s. MYX has the widest variety of trainers, and I love that they range in ages, body types, styles and sizes. It makes the process comfortable and relatable, and that lower cortisol level throughout the exercise surely helps my heart out, as well.
Thanks to my relationship with the MYX system and its heart monitor, I've gotten into the best cardio shape -- and overall shape -- of my life. When I first started using MYX last year, my heart skyrocketed quickly with bike riding as it had in the past. But slowly and surely, with monitoring and pausing when I need to, I can complete MYX's most challenging rides without my heart rate ever passing 185.
Instead of forcing an unsustainable pace for my body, I was able to make such huge strides with cardio exercise because I gradually raised my endurance without taxing my heart excessively. And now I'll never again be someone who can't do cardio due to a heart condition.
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The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.