Last updated: March 23, 2021
Exercise and the Heart — What Works Best?
Exercise and the Heart — What Works Best?
Photo credit: Pixy
The best exercise programs for heart health are those that are aerobic. These activities present benefits both for healthy individuals and for those with cardiovascular problems.
Low- to moderate-impact exercise can improve chronic conditions as well as longevity. Some studies indicate that it may be wise to avoid stressful or extreme activities that may actually damage the heart.
Read on to learn more about heart-smart exercise.
Of the many different activity types available, aerobic exercise is the best for reducing your risk of heart disease. Aerobic exercise is any reasonable intensity exercised sustained over a long enough period of time to increase the body’s oxygen and enemy demands. Consistent aerobic exercise improves cardiovascular health, heart and respiratory function, metabolism and more.
Aerobic activities include walking, swimming, jogging, and riding a bicycle. In addition to increasing heart rate, these exercises also improve the body’s use of oxygen, helping maintain healthy lungs and circulatory system.
For overall cardiovascular health the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion recommends:
- 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) each week of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity (fast walking or tennis)
- 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) each week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity (jogging or swimming)
- An equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity
- Do the aerobic physical activity in episodes of at least 10 minutes and, if possible, spread it out through the week.
For even greater heart-health benefits, do one of the following:
- Increase moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity to 300 minutes (5 hours) each week
- Increase vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity for 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) each week
- Do muscle-strengthening activities (lifting weights or using resistance bands) that are moderate or high intensity and involve all major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week.
Heart health can show significant improvements with just half an hour of exercise a day. An exercise regime can keep the heart functioning optimally and reduce the incidence or progression of some diseases and disorders. High blood pressure, high cholesterol and other conditions can be managed and sometimes even reversed with the adoption of an aerobic exercise program.
Low-impact exercises like aerobics or swimming can be especially beneficial to those with cardiovascular disease. Activities that allow people to warm up, condition, and cool down during training programs may present the best results.
Risks of physical activity
Excessive high endurance exercises have been shown to have an adverse effect on cardiac health. A study in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings Journal reveals potential adverse cardiovascular effects from excessive endurance exercise — this suggests that extreme exercise is not healthy for the heart.
While individuals may think that working the heart as hard as possible may improve heart health, overworking the heart is possible because the heart cannot regenerate itself. Marathon runners, for example, have been shown to have a significant increase in the enzymes the heart releases when it is damaged; usually used to confirm a heart attack! The heart has limits, so it would be prudent, when devising exercise programs, to adopt moderate exercise regimes, consult your physician if you have existing health problems, and listen to your body.
Keep moving for heart health
The 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee states that the most important theme is to move more and sit less. This simple mantra decreases the risk of cancer, increases health benefits, and helps you sleep.
The findings of a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2002 imply that exercise endurance is a key predictor of long life. The study monitored several men, with and without heart disease, to catalog their health conditions and exercise habits. After ten years, they found that those who reached and maintained good physical fitness were likely to live longer. This is just one of the thousands of studies that indicate that heart-healthy exercise is important and is encouraged even in patients who have undergone heart surgery. With exercise comes a healthy heart and with cardiac health comes a long life.
A 2017 study of 68.5 million overweight and obese individuals in 195 countries over 25 years showed that the rise of BMI has been significant. This study, funded by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, showed that ⅔ of BMI-related deaths are caused by a cardiovascular factor.
Individuals with cardiovascular diseases or suspicion of heart problems should discuss potential exercise plans with their doctors. Physicians may need to take patients’ personal and medical histories into account before suggesting individualized workouts. Doctors may also elect to perform stress or echo tests to determine if exercise is safe.