Wondering how to keep your heart healthy? Find out the three best exercises
Exercising to keep your heart healthy is important at every age. Heart disease remains the number one cause of health-related death in the United States, and stroke is in fifth place. There is good news, though – regular exercise can cut your risk of heart disease by as much as half. The American Heart Association recommends engaging in several different types of exercise in order to get the most cardiovascular benefit from your physical activity. The best types of exercise for heart health are aerobic exercise, strength training, and stretching (flexibility and balance) exercises. Here’s what you need to know about each exercise type.
What to do: Aerobic exercises include any physical activity that gets your heart pumping. Popular aerobic activities include brisk walking, jogging, jumping rope, swimming, playing tennis, and cycling.
How much: Experts recommend performing moderate intensity aerobic exercise at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week, or 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity three days a week to keep your heart healthy. To count as moderate intensity cardio exercise, your activity should raise your heart rate and cause you to breathe harder but still leave you capable of speech.
How it helps heart health: Aerobic exercise benefits your heart health by increasing circulation and helping your heart pump better, which lowers your blood pressure and heart rate. High intensity interval training is considered by many to be the best cardio for heart health. It consists of performing brief bursts of intense aerobic activity as hard as you can for a few minutes, followed by a brief rest then repeating the cycle. An example would be the 4×4: 4 minutes of high intensity aerobic exercise, followed by 3 minutes resting, repeated 4 times. Replacing your regular cardio with high intensity interval training twice a week can vastly improve the cardio benefits of your workouts.
Resistance (Strength) Training
What to do: Working with resistance bands, lifting free weights, and strength training classes are all good forms of strength training. Body-resistance exercises such as planks, chin-ups, and squats are all strengthening exercises that can be performed anywhere, without any additional equipment.
How much: The AHA recommends performing moderate to high-intensity muscle strengthening exercise at least two non-consecutive days every week.
How it helps heart health: Resistance training creates leaner body mass and helps reduce fat. It can help reduce belly fat, which is a prime risk factor in heart disease. Resistance training and aerobic exercise work together to help lower levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol and raise levels of HDL or good cholesterol.
Flexibility, Stretching, and Balance Exercises
What to do: Flexibility exercises include touching your toes, shoulder rolls, and basic stretches. Yoga and Tai Chi classes are great ways to improve flexibility and balance.
How much: Flexibility exercises should be performed every day, several times a day. Just take a few minutes to perform a couple of gentle stretches. Make sure you stretch before and after every time you exercise.
How it helps heart health: Flexibility exercises maintain your musculoskeletal health, keeping you limber and free from joint pain, muscle cramps, tears, and strain. While flexibility exercises do not directly affect your heart health, they enable you to perform the aerobic and strength training exercises that keep your heart strong and healthy.
You should of course consult your physician before starting any workout program, especially if you have health issues that affect your heart. The most important thing to remember about exercising to keep your heart healthy is to stick to a regular schedule. When asked which exercise is best for heart health, experts advise that it is the exercise you perform regularly. Taking a brisk walk every day is better for your heart health than a more intense workout that you only get around to occasionally.