Staying active is a great way to keep your heart strong and reduce your risk of heart disease, research shows. By exercising, you are not only preparing yourself to live a long and healthy life, you are Prioritizing your heart health.
Different types of exercises like walking can keep your heart in tip-top shape. We spoke to experts to determine the best exercises to do to get a healthy heart, brain and body. There’s something for every lifestyle, whether you prefer low- or high-intensity exercise. Get the most out of these workouts by adding them to your exercise routine today.
Why exercise is important for your heart
Exercise in general is beneficial for cardiovascular health. For one thing, it reduces the chances of you developing heart problems as you age. It helps lower your blood pressure, increase your high-density lipoprotein (or good cholesterol), reduce stress, and improve your heart’s ability to pump more blood to your muscles by efficiently transporting oxygen from the blood. It also has indirect benefits.
“Exercise can also help control cardiovascular risk factors such as diabetes, high cholesterol and obesity,” said Dr. Lance LaMotte, Interventional Cardiologist, Fellow of the American College of Cardiology and Owner of the Title Boxing Club in Baton Rouge, LA.
On the flip side, staying active is also important as you get older, as inactivity has been linked to a higher risk of developing heart disease. It also increases your chances of having a major cardiovascular event. LaMotte said, “Studies have shown a reduced likelihood of heart attack and stroke when activity is maintained or increased with age.” In addition to keeping your heart healthy, LaMotte added that exercise can also improve your cognition and memory as you age.
What exercises are best for your heart?
Any exercise that increases your heart rate is beneficial for your heart health, said Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, a preventive cardiologist and member of Peloton’s Health & Wellness Advisory Council: “I have always said that exercise is the best medicine and prevention for heart disease and for a healthier and happier life.” LaMotte added that “almost any form Regular exercise can provide tremendous cardiovascular benefits, whether it’s traditional cardio like walking, running, biking, swimming, high-intensity interval training, resistance training, or total-body exercise like boxing.”
While all exercise offers heart health benefits, there are some workouts that have proven to be ideal for keeping your heart strong. Here’s a breakdown of five of the best exercises for heart health. These exercises get your heart pumping and offer a variety of options to prevent overuse injuries and work different muscles.
A good rule of thumb for interval training is: Keep the exercises short and intense followed by an equal or shorter rest period in between. Interval training is a good option when you’re short on time and want to work up a sweat quickly. Studies even suggest that HIIT-style or high-intensity interval training improves both your lung and heart health, and your heart’s response to exercise. Additionally, there are workout apps and programs you can download that focus on this type of workout if you’re not sure where to start.
Weightlifting may be slower, but it’s also a great way to increase your heart rate and improve the strength of your heart. One study found that lifting weights can reduce your chances of having a stroke or heart attack by about 40% to 70%. Depending on your goals, it’s helpful to connect with a personal trainer who can teach you the right techniques and create a customized training program for you.
Walking is just as beneficial as running, but is gentler on the body. It’s easy to perform anywhere, and you can get even more benefits as you pick up the pace. “Walking is a low-intensity exercise that has been shown to benefit your heart, especially if you walk at a brisk pace and pump your arms,” Steinbaum said. Research suggests that brisk walking may further improve your cardiovascular health compared to slow walking. Other ways to make your walks more challenging include walking with some weights in hand, adding half a mile to each walk, or adding bodyweight exercises from time to time.
Yoga is known to lower blood pressure, improve your flexibility and balance, and reduce pain. Yoga can be done from the comfort of your own home — All you need is a yoga mat and a little space to move.
Swimming is a gentle, full-body workout that’s easy on the joints but still packs a serious cardio punch. Swimming keeps your lungs and heart strong and even helps lower your blood pressure. It’s a great aerobic option if you’re also recovering from an injury or if your body doesn’t respond well to high-impact exercise.
Where to start
Before beginning any new exercise program, it’s important to discuss it with your doctor, especially if you have a history of health problems or if there is a family history of heart problems. LaMotte said that “if cardiovascular risk factors are present, it is advisable to obtain prior medical clearance.” Steinbaum agreed, saying, “Checking your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, hemoglobin A1C (sugar), and inflammatory markers, among other indicators, are important sources of information to help determine risk levels for higher-intensity exercise sessions.” However, if you are a generally healthy person, use your best judgment when beginning a new workout and stay within your limits.
When you’re just beginning your training journey, it’s important to make sure you’re not overdoing it too soon. LaMotte recommended that you start slowly to establish consistency and set sensible goals. For example, if you’re just starting out running, it’s best to focus on completing a set distance at a comfortable pace rather than increasing the intensity and cover the distance at the same time.
A good rule of thumb is to follow the recommendations of the American Heart Association. Aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week, or a combination of both per week. In addition, you should include strength training at least two days per week. “Studies have shown that activities that get your heart rate in the moderate-intensity heart rate zone are the best option for optimal cardiovascular benefit,” Steinbaum advised.
The best way to do this is to explore and find an activity that you enjoy and that you know you’re okay with. Some people may find it helpful to have a workout partner or small group of friends to hold them accountable. “It’s also important to be attuned to body feedback to reduce injury,” LaMotte warned, adding that hydration and rest days are also important to minimize the risk of injury and fatigue.
Additionally, it’s important to balance heart-healthy exercise with a healthy diet. “I always tell my patients that they can’t beat poor nutrition,” advised LaMotte. “A diet low in saturated fat, refined sugar, and sodium may help control or lower blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels.”
If you have a family history of heart disease, it’s important to get your blood pressure, cholesterol, and sugar levels checked by the age of 20. “If a woman had complications during pregnancy such as preeclampsia, gestational diabetes or high blood pressure, she should have her heart examined,” says Steinbaum. For other people, she said, “know your numbers” and a yearly spa visit is part of heart-healthy living.
For more research-backed advice on maintaining your heart health, click here Nine things you can do now to lower your risk of heart disease. Besides, here is How to check your heart health at home without fancy equipment.
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 healthcare provider with any questions about a medical condition or health goals.