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Exercise and Your Heart

posted Feb 12, 2018, 11:46 AM by Tracy Ducker, MS, RDN
It is well known that exercise is good for the heart. But how does it really help, much is enough, and what types are best? We will answer these questions so you can keep your heart healthy.  The effects of exercise on the heart and cardiovascular system have been studied for over 60 years.  And while the recommendations have changed over the years (mostly to make it more achievable for everyone) the fact remains that cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death in the U.S. The good news is that CVD is largely preventable and one of the biggest factors in preventing heart disease is being physically active.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), the following are some of the cardiovascular risk reduction benefits of exercising regularly:

  • ·                     Increase in exercise tolerance
  • ·                     Reduced blood pressure
  • ·                     Reduction in bad (LDL and total) cholesterol
  • ·                     Increase in good (HDL) cholesterol
  • ·                     Increase in insulin sensitivity
  • -             Weight loss
So, how does exercise actually help your heart? When you exercise, your heart rate increases (at least it should) so you are pumping more blood and oxygen through your arteries, which makes your heart more efficient and keeps blood pressure under control. Within about 4 weeks of regular consistent exercise, you will see and feel changes like a decrease in resting heart rate and the ability to exercise longer and harder. Many people will feel more energetic, less stressed, and have improved sleep after just one workout. These can all have a positive impact on your heart disease risk.

As we get older, our arteries become more rigid, making it easier for plaque to build up inside. If too much plaque builds up, the artery becomes blocked which causes a heart attack or stroke. Exercise helps keep the blood vessels more flexible, allowing blood to flow more freely.

Diabetes is another risk factor for heart disease. Exercise helps the body use insulin to better control glucose levels in the blood.

The recommended type and amount of exercise according to both the AHA and NIH are to aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate- intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity per week. This can be done in short 10 minute increments.  For example, taking a 10-15 minute walk during your lunch break, walking the dog, or taking the stairs all count towards your 150 minutes. You can also do a combination of moderate and vigorous intensity activities.

Examples of moderate-intensity activities are walking briskly (3 mph), water aerobics, general gardening, doubles tennis, bicycling slower than 10 mph.                                                   Examples of vigorous-intensity activities are running, jogging, or race walking, bicycling faster than 10 mph, aerobic dancing, heavy gardening, swimming laps, jumping                         rope,  or uphill hiking.

It is also important to include some resistance or weight training activities at least twice per week. These include yoga, push-ups, lifting weights (be sure to include the major muscle groups-legs, hips, chest, back, arms, and core or abdomen).

Remember, some exercise is better than none. See what fits best into your schedule and lifestyle. For more information on exercise and your heart click here.