How to Exercise to Boost Heart Health
Improve Your Heart Health
Working out is typically seen as something that produces external physical benefits. Most people think of exercise as a means to keep their body fit and in shape. However, did you know that exercise not only affects the muscles outside your body, but your heart muscle as well?
New research by the European Heart Journal suggests that a lack of physical activity can increase your risk of heart attack in the long run, even without present warning symptoms. The good news is that increasing your fitness levels can reduce the risk of heart attack by half or more!
A moderate amount of exercise (about 3-5 days per week) can significantly benefit your heart health and reduce your heart disease risk factors in these ways:
- Reduce the risk of death from heart disease.
- Help your heart and cardiovascular system work more efficiently.
- Lower blood pressure and reduce risk of developing diabetes.
- Improve blood sugar tolerance if you have diabetes.
- Help control high blood pressure in both systolic and diastolic pressure by 8 to 10 points.
- Support efforts to stop smoking.
- Maintain weight and reduce body fat.
Along with lowering your risk of heart disease, exercise results in additional benefits for your body:
- Improves your mood and feeling of well-being.
- Lowers your risk for some types of cancer.
- Improves your balance and flexibility.
- Reduces your risk of osteoporosis by increasing your bone mass.
- Gives you more energy.
- Helps you sleep better.
- Keeps muscles, bones, and joints healthy.
- Increase your ability to do daily activities without getting tired
- Maintain muscle tone, improve your posture, and reduce the risk of fracturing bones
- Reduces feelings of anxiety or depression
How Exercise Affects the Heart and Body
Just as exercise builds up other muscles, it also strengthens your heart muscle to pump blood more efficiently through your body. By pushing out more blood with each beat, your heart beats slower and therefore keeps your blood pressure under control.
Consistent physical activity allows for better blood flow in the small blood vessels around your heart, which prevent clogs from forming in these arteries that can otherwise lead to heart attacks.
Regular exercise also causes your body’s tissue (including the heart) to pull more oxygen from your blood. Your heart then works better under stress and prevents you from getting fatigued faster during high-intensity activities.
What Kind of Exercises are Best?
In a JAMA Internal Medicine study, data collected from six studies showed that over a 14-year period, people who never exercised were at the highest risk of death. But even just adding a little bit of activity lowered risk of death by 20 percent.
Going from zero exercise to getting even a portion of the recommended 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise per week can significantly improve your health outcomes. Those who completed at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise every week were 31 percent less likely to die than those who were mostly inactive during the 14-year period of the study. The people who engaged in at least 450 minutes of moderate weekly exercise had the best health outcomes–they were 39% less likely to die.
The experts agree that really *any* kind of exercise is beneficial to heart health and prolonging your life. High-intensity interval training (short, intense bouts of exercise), is considered best for improving fitness. However, aerobic exercise and resistance training are more impactful for heart health.
What It Does: Aerobic exercise improves blood circulation, which lowers your blood pressure and heart rate. It also improves your cardiac output, or how well your heart pumps blood to the rest of the body. Aerobic exercise also reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes, and helps control the blood glucose for those already living with diabetes.
Recommended Amount: At least 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week.
Examples: Brisk walking, running, cycling, swimming, jumping rope, tennis.
What It Does: Carrying a lot of body fat (ie. having a big belly) is a risk factor for heart disease. Resistance training can help reduce fat and create leaner muscle mass. A combination of aerobic exercise and resistance work can raise levels of “good” HDL cholesterol that lowers risk of heart disease by flushing the “bad” LDL cholesterol out of your system.
Recommended Amount: The American College of Sports Medicine recommends at least two non-consecutive days per week.
Examples: Working out with free weights (ie. hand weights, dumbbells, or barbells) or resistance bands, using weight machines, or body-resistance exercises like push-ups, squats, and chin-ups.
If you’re not sure where to start, a personal trainer can help you design an exercise routine that’s right for you.