Exercise has many positive effects on heart health. A regular exercise routine can help:

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Lessen the risk of developing diabetes
  • Maintain healthy body weight
  • Reduce inflammation throughout the body
  • Improves the muscles’ ability to pull oxygen out of the blood, reducing the need for the heart to pump more blood to the muscles
  • Reduces stress hormones that can put an extra burden on the heart
  • Works like a beta blocker to slow the heart rate and lower blood pressure
  • Increases high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or “good” cholesterol and helps control triglycerides

A number of studies have also shown that people who exercise regularly are less likely to suffer a sudden heart attack or other life-threatening cardiac event.

While exercise has benefits in and of itself, the best way to prevent heart disease is to combine exercise with a healthy diet. Exercise alone can help with weight loss over a long period of time. But a short-term approach is to reduce the number of calories you take in through diet while increasing the calories you use through exercise.

Ideal exercise for the heart

The best exercise has a positive effect on the heart and improves the skeletal muscular system.

The American Heart Association and the American College of Sports Medicine both recommend combining aerobic exercise (jogging, swimming, biking) with resistance training (moderate weightlifting). Together, these two categories of exercise produce the greatest benefit for preventing and managing heart disease.

How much exercise and how often?

General guidelines call for a combination of aerobic exercise and resistance training. Try to get in a minimum of 30 minutes of aerobic exercise such as walking, cycling, or swimming at least five days a week. Do moderate weightlifting to tone muscles and build muscle endurance twice a week, or frequently enough to cover the major muscle groups.

How do you know when you’re making progress?

There are many ways to chart your exercise progress. Three of the most common are target heart rate for aerobic exercise, number of repetitions for weight training, and fat vs. muscle body composition.

  • Target heart rate – The more fit you are, the harder you’ll need to work to reach your target heart rate. For example, in the first month you may need to walk 3 mph to reach a heart rate of 120, while in the second month in order to reach the same heart rate, you need to walk 4 mph or find a steeper hill. Your fitness is improved and your heart is working more efficiently.
  • Reps – The more weight you can lift 12-15 times without straining, the stronger and more durable your muscles are. For example, you start out struggling to curl a 15-lb. dumbbell 15 times and then add three to five pounds when it becomes easy.
  • Body composition – Exercise more and your body will change shape: you’ll lose fat, specifically around the waist, and gain muscle. A looser pair of pants or skirts is a distinct sign of progress.

– Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Exercise and the heart.”
– American College of Sports Medicine: “Ideal exercise for the heart.”

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