What Exercises Improve Heart Health?
Author: Matthew Gallo
February 23, 2023
One key factor that shapes heart health is regular exercise. It’s an important tool for the prevention of chronic diseases, as well as a great way to improve your overall happiness and wellbeing. In addition to lowering risk of disease, physically active adults also experience improved sleep, cognition, and quality of life.
There are different types of exercises needed to provide complete physical fitness. Recommendations for these activities are published in the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd Edition . Among the types of exercise recommended are aerobic, resistance, and flexibility.
Aerobic exercise is also known as endurance or cardio exercise. Aerobic activities increase a person’s breathing and heart rate for an extended duration. Regular aerobic exercise will make the cardiorespiratory system stronger over time.
Recommendations: Adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise each week. It’s best to spread aerobic activities through the week, on at least 3 days to best produce health benefits and reduce the risk of injury or excessive fatigue. Intensity is key when it comes to aerobic activity, and a general rule of thumb is that 2 minutes of moderate-intensity activity counts the same as 1 minute of vigorous-intensity activity.
Examples of moderate-intensity aerobic activities include walking briskly, recreational swimming, bicycling at a pace of <10mph, general yard work, ballroom dancing, active forms of yoga, and doubles tennis.
Examples of vigorous-intensity aerobic activities include jogging or running, swimming laps, bicycling at a pace of >10mph, jumping rope, vigorous dancing, heavy yard work, hiking uphill, singles tennis, and high-intensity interval training (HIIT).
Resistance training, or muscle-strengthening activities, provide additional benefits not found with aerobic exercise. These benefits include increased bone-strength and muscular fitness, as well as helping to maintain muscle mass during weight loss. Research shows that the combination of aerobic and resistance exercise helps to raise HDL (good) cholesterol and lower LDL (bad) cholesterol. Resistance training overloads the muscles, meaning they are working at a greater level than they’re normally accustomed to.
Recommendations: Resistance training activities should involve a moderate or greater level of effort and work the major muscle groups of the body. Areas of involvement should include the legs, hips, back, chest, abdomen, shoulders, and arms. Muscle-strengthening activities should be performed on at least two nonconsecutive days each week. Rather than exercising for a specific amount of time, muscle-strengthening activities should be performed until doing another repetition becomes too difficult.
Examples of resistance training activities include working out with free weights, weight machines, resistance bands, or by doing body-weight exercises such as pull-ups, push-ups, and squats.
Flexibility and Balance Training
While flexibility training may not have a direct influence on heart health, it is an important part of physical fitness that should be paired with aerobic and resistance training. Having a full range of flexibility will make other activities easier, as well as help prevent joint-pain, muscle cramping, and injury. Having good flexibility will also improve your balance and stability.
Recommendations: Flexibility training should be performed every day, and before and after every time you exercise.
Examples of flexibility training include anything from basic stretches to yoga and tai chi. Focus on holding stretches for 15 to 30 seconds and repeating it 2 to 4 times.
Testing total cholesterol is one precautionary action your doctor may take to measure your risk of heart disease. Total cholesterol is a measure of the total amount of cholesterol in your blood, including low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL).
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1. United States, Congress, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd Edition. https://health.gov/sites/default/files/2019-09/Physical_Activity_Guidelines_2nd_edition.pdf. Accessed 23 Feb. 2023.