When considering the benefits of exercising, losing weight and “getting ripped” might be the first things to come to mind. But there’s a benefit that is way more crucial: keeping a healthy heart.
Your heart is the most important muscle in your body, so it deserves some attention too, right? Let’s take a look at some of the best exercises to keep your heart strong and reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke.
Aerobic exercises, also known as cardio, are designed to raise your heart rate and make you break a sweat. Aerobics help to improve your circulation and lower your blood pressure. If you have diabetes, they can also help you control your blood sugar level.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that every adult should get at least two hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise a week, at intervals of 10 minutes or more. Some examples of moderate-intensity aerobics are:
- going for a brisk walk
- biking on flat terrain
- taking a leisurely swim
If you’re big on working out but short on time, you can meet the CDC’s guidelines with one hour and 15 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise. These strenuous workouts are meant to get you breathing hard and increase your heart rate significantly. Examples of vigorous-intensity aerobics include:
- biking 10 mph or faster
- swimming laps
- playing soccer
- hiking uphill
It’s also OK to do a mix of moderate and vigorous-intensity aerobics during the week if you prefer. As a rule of thumb, one minute of vigorous-intensity exercise is about equal to two minutes of moderate-intensity aerobics.
Don’t feel pressure to push yourself too hard, though. If you want to meet your weekly aerobics requirements strictly from walking, that’s perfectly fine. Walking is a great low-impact exercise that will give you all of the health benefits of a more intense workout, without overexerting yourself.
Strength training (sometimes called resistance training) is another great way to improve your heart health. When combined with aerobics, strength training will help to raise good cholesterol and lower bad cholesterol. It can also reduce your risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
Both the CDC and the American Heart Association suggest you participate in strength training exercises at least twice a week (on nonconsecutive days).
Ideally, these strength training sessions should work all of your major muscle groups: arms, legs, hips, chest, shoulders, abs, and back. Although this might sound intimidating, it’s far from the weightlifting and bodybuilding you see on TV. Some examples of strength training exercise include:
- lifting free weights
- using resistance bands
- doing pushups
- doing situps
- doing squats
Strength training exercises should be done in sets. Each set should consist of 8 to 12 repetitions, or until it becomes difficult for you to perform another repetition without help.
Although they may not influence your heart health directly, flexibility and stretching exercises can contribute a lot to your workout. Activities like yoga, tai chi, and Pilates will not only improve your flexibility and balance, but also decrease your chances of getting cramps, joint aches, and muscle pain while working out.
Flexibility exercises make it easier to do the other types of physical activities that are necessary for a healthy heart. The great thing about flexibility training is that you can do it anytime, anywhere. Whether it’s warming up before a workout, taking a hot yoga class, or just doing some stretches in your living room, improving your flexibility is always a good idea if you’re serious about heart health.
For more information about the exercises to keep your heart healthy, consult your doctor.