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Staying Active

Discover the best exercises for heart health

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How regular exercise helps us live a heart-healthy life

Being physically active is one of the three pillars of heart health, along with eating well and mindfulness. Studies have shown that taking part in regular exercise improves factors linked to cardiovascular health, resulting in lower blood pressure, healthier cholesterol levels, and better blood sugar regulation.1

Incorporating heart workouts into daily activities

There’s a difference between exercising for your health and wellbeing and exercising for fitness in an athletic, competitive sense. It can be tempting to avoid exercise altogether as you might instantly focus on the latter part, but any amount of movement is better than none. We don’t all have to be athletes but we should all strive to move frequently to maintain a strong and healthy heart. Findings from Harvey B. Simon, MD2 have shown that sitting is the most dangerous activity for health, and we should all stand up to feel better.  Even exercising for as little as 15-20 minutes a day can be beneficial! You don’t even need to move for hours and hours, as the same findings showed that the benefits plateau beyond 45-60 minutes of daily moderate exercise, such as walking.

Why not set yourself an individual goal to get moving your way? You could start with a short daily stroll, and gradually build up time, distance or speed. You might even decide to jog or run after a few weeks.

Heart strengthening exercises

Aerobic or cardio exercises for heart health

Aerobic training gets the heart rate up which has been shown in studies to benefit heart health by improving cardiorespiratory fitness.3 Studies have also shown that training can reduce cardiovascular risk factors.2 For recommendations on frequency and duration of training, the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services4 recommends that for substantial health benefits, adults should do at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) to 300 minutes (5 hours) a week of moderate-intensity training or 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) to 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity. Alternatively, they suggest doing an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity which should ideally be spread throughout the week.

What’s moderate to one person may feel vigorous to another, but you can look at how you are feeling to determine which you are actually doing. Broadly speaking, moderate-intensity cardio training requires a medium or moderate amount of effort which can be recognised through a faster heartbeat that makes it harder to breathe than normal, but you should still be able to talk while exercising. Vigorous-intensity cardio training requires a higher amount of effort that will see you get warm and begin to sweat and you won’t be able to talk much without getting out of breath.

For most people, moderate and vigorous intensity exercise would look something like this:

Moderate-intensity aerobic activitiesVigorous-intensity aerobic activities
Brisk walking (at least 2.5 miles per hour)Hiking uphill or with a heavy backpack
Biking (slower than 10 miles per hour)Running
Water aerobicsBiking (10 miles per hour or faster)
DancingSwimming laps
GardeningAerobic dancing
Tennis (doubles)Heavy garden work (e. g. continuous digging or hoeing)
Tennis (singles)
Skipping

Strengthening and stretching exercises for heart health

Besides cardio training, adults should also do muscle-strengthening activities, such as resistance training, of moderate or greater intensity that involve all major muscle groups. Research has shown that this can also provide additional health benefits:4 For best results, heart strengthening exercises such as hand grip, leg extension, and weightlifting should be performed two or more days a week.5

Find your own routine and boost your heart health

It’s clear that staying active is incredibly important to maintain a healthy heart. Along with the other two pillars of heart health – eating well and mindfulness – it will help keep your heart in optimum condition for as long as possible. To be on the safe side, we would always recommend that you talk to your doctor before starting any new exercise programme, particularly if you have a heart condition. Once you have been given the all clear though, you can enjoy your new routine knowing that you are safeguarding the health of your heart in the process.

  1. https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/the-many-ways-exercise-helps-your-heart []
  2. https://www.amjmed.com/article/S0002-9343(15)00455-6/fulltext [] []
  3. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/fitness/fitness-basics/aha-recs-for-physical-activity-in-adults []
  4. https://health.gov/sites/default/files/2019-09/Physical_Activity_Guidelines_2nd_edition.pdf [] []
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3116747/ []