Why Exercise Is So Important for Heart Health

iacinternational/ June 17, 2019/ Blog, Fitness

Exercise has a number of important benefits, including strengthening your heart and improving circulation. This in turn can help prevent and even reverse heart disease.

For optimal heart health, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity five days a week for a total of 150 minutes, or at least 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity three days a week for a total of 75 minutes. This is in addition to moderate- to high-intensity muscle-strengthening activity two days a week.

For lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, the AHA recommends an average of 40 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity aerobic activity three or four days a week. 

How Aerobic Exercise Benefits the Heart

Regardless of your age, weight, or physical abilities, aerobic exercise is important for your health. It improves circulation, lowers blood pressure and cholesterol, manages weight, and reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes. All of these factors lower the risk of heart disease.

Additional benefits of aerobic activity include increased stamina, a stronger immune system, improved mood, and help keep you active and independent as you age.

If you’re new to working out, the AHA recommends starting out with 10 to 15 minutes at a time and then building up gradually to longer stretches.

Examples of aerobic exercise include:

  • Brisk walking
  • Jogging or running
  • Swimming
  • Cycling
  • Jumping rope
  • Climbing stairs at home or at work
  • Playing sports, such as tennis, soccer, basketball, or racquetball

A study published in 2013 in the British Journal of Medicine found that some routine activities, such as gardening, are as good as structured exercise routines and can cut the risk of heart attack and stroke by as much as 30 percent.

At the end of the day, experts recommend choosing the type of physical activity that you enjoy and works best for you.

The Benefits of Strength Training

Muscle-strengthening exercises, also known as resistance training, make your muscles work against a resistance or load, increasing their strength, size, power, and endurance.

Strengthening muscles can help you perform everyday activities and protect the body from injuries. Stronger muscles also boost your metabolic rate, which means you’ll burn more calories even while you’re resting.

Examples of resistance training include:

  • Lifting or working out with free weights, such as hand weights, dumbbells, or barbells
  • Using weight machines or resistance bands
  • Body-resistance exercise, including pushups, pullups, squats, and chin-ups

According to the AHA, one set of 8 to 12 repetitions for each muscle group is usually sufficient. If you’re new to working out, you may want to consult a certified fitness professional to learn safe techniques before beginning strength training.

Stretching and Balance Are an Important Aspect of Exercise

While flexibility workouts like stretching may not directly contribute to heart health, it does benefit musculoskeletal health, which can help with joint pain, muscle cramping, and other musculoskeletal issues. This is critical in allowing you to maintain your aerobic and resistance training workouts.

Additionally, practicing yoga has numerous health benefits, including increased lung capacity, improved respiratory function, lower resting heart rate, and improved circulation and muscle tone. Studies have also shown yoga can help lower blood pressure, which is important for decreasing risk of heart attack, stroke, and other health problems.

Yoga, as well as meditation, can also reduce stress, which is a risk factor for heart disease.

If you’re new to yoga, talk to your physician about choosing a class that is right for you. The AHA recommends against hot yoga if you have experienced a heart attack, as the heat can put extra strain on the heart.