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Foundation Fitness and Rehabilitation

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Training Tips

The Best Exercises for a Healthy Heart

According to researchers, up to 250,000 deaths in the U.S. every year are related to lack of exercise. It’s a sobering statistic. One of the biggest reasons for this fact is that a sedentary lifestyle contributes to heart disease. (1)

Exercise can turn heart health around at any age. While any type of exercise is better than none, some workouts are especially good for the heart.

The Importance of Heart Health

Heart health should be a priority for everyone, at every age and every stage of fitness. The heart is responsible for moving blood through the body, carrying oxygen to fuel cells and their functions. Without the heart pumping blood successfully, we cannot survive. Many bad lifestyle habits contribute to heart disease and poor overall function, but good choices keep the heart strong and healthy.

What Measures Heart Health? 

Unless you have a congenital heart disease, your heart should function your whole life, if you treat it right. You know you have a healthy heart if: 

  • You have a resting heart rate between 60 and 100 beats per minute. 
  • Your heart rate recovers fairly quickly after being elevated. 
  • Your blood pressure is under 120/80. 
  • A blood test measures healthy cholesterol, creatinine, sodium, and potassium levels. 

Of course, the only way to really understand your heart health is to see your doctor, but most of these are signs you can check at home. 

Elements of Heart Health – Why You Need the Best Exercises for a Healthy Heart

Several lifestyle habits and choices help keep your heart functioning well, including a healthy diet, a healthy weight, not smoking, and managing stress. 

Exercise is also an essential ingredient in the recipe for heart health, and one that too many people avoid. It benefits the heart in several ways: 

  • Exercise makes the muscle of the heart more efficient. 
  • It improves circulation around your heart, reducing the risk of a deadly clot. 
  • Exercise increases HDL cholesterol and lowers LDL cholesterol.
  • It helps you maintain a healthy weight, which promotes heart health. 
  • Exercise is also great for stress management, which is important for lowering blood pressure. 

What Are the Best Exercises for a Healthy Heart? 

The best exercise for a healthy heart is any exercise. It is far better to get any type of exercise than none at all. The type of activity you or will do consistently is the best of all. With that in mind, certain activities are better than others. 

Aerobic, Cardio Exercise is Number One

Aerobic exercise is any workout that gets the heart pumping harder, triggering the use of oxygen for energy. The opposite is anaerobic exercise, which does not use oxygen. You’re doing aerobic, or cardio, exercise if your heart rate is elevated but to an extent that you can sustain it for a long period of time and still talk without too much discomfort. Cardio workouts benefit the heart in several ways (2):

  • Improves circulation to lower blood pressure and resting heart rate
  • Strengthens the heart muscle 
  • Strengthens blood vessels
  • Lowers cholesterol levels
  • Improves the flow of oxygen through the body

So many activities count as cardio, so your clients have options. A variety is good because it keeps exercise interesting, staves off boredom, and reduces the risks of injuries from doing the same thing over and over again. 

What counts as cardio? Try a brisk walk, a moderate-paced jog or run, cycling, swimming, the elliptical machine at the gym, a dance class, a game of basketball, soccer, or tennis, and much more. 

Include High-Intensity Interval Training

HIIT workouts are intense bouts of exercise, followed by a recovery period. The short bursts of intensity, like a 100-meter sprint, are anaerobic. Although aerobic exercise most directly impacts heart health, there is a place for anaerobic workouts. 

Anaerobic exercise builds muscle strength, including in the heart. It helps build endurance and improves heart health. Aim for one session per week of HIIT, adjusting it for client ability levels and limitations. 

Don’t Forget Strength Training

Another type of anaerobic exercise, resistance or strength training benefit heart health. Strength training reduces fat and cholesterol and supports a healthy weight, which helps keep the heart healthier. Strength training is good for heart health in an indirect way and should be done a couple times a week. 

All-Day Activity

Being sedentary is a major contributor to heart disease. While meeting the minimum recommendations of weekly exercise reduces the risk and improves heart health, an overall strategy or reducing sedentary time is best. Moving regularly throughout the day gets the heart rate up, works muscles, and burns calories. 

Being more active throughout the day does not have to be difficult or complicated. Small changes to your lifestyle are simple: 

  • Getting up from your desk every hour to walk around the house or office for a few minutes
  • Taking a walking lunch instead of a sitting lunch or other work break
  • Doing chores around the house or yardwork in the garden
  • Parking in the back of lots and taking stairs instead of elevators

These small bursts of activity add up to improve heart health on a daily basis. They may not seem as important as hour-long gym sessions, but they are. 

How Much Exercise is Optimal for Heart Health?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise per week as well as two days of strength training. (3)

The CDC recommendations are useful, but research is always changing the landscape. A review of studies on exercise and heart health looked at the minimum and maximum exercise amounts for best results (4):

  • At least 15 minutes of moderate exercise per day makes a difference for heart health. 
  • More than 15 minutes of exercise has a bigger impact on heart health. 
  • The heart health benefits of exercise plateau at about 45 to 60 minutes per day. 
  • Even up to ten times the minimum amount of exercise, researchers saw no drawbacks. 

Heart health is essential for overall health. Every one of us should be thinking about it. Plan workouts and exercise routines that get you moving more and doing the kinds of activities that promote healthy hearts.