Your heart is the most important muscle in your body. It works as a powerhouse to expand and contract an average of 100,000 times per day while pumping oxygen and blood to sustain life. Regular exercise is one of the most effective tools to improve heart health and reduce risk for cardiovascular disease. The more you work out your heart, the stronger it gets, just like working your biceps or quadriceps. Here are four other specific ways physical activity can improve heart health.
1. Lowers blood pressure
Blood pressure is defined as the force of the blood against the artery walls. A conditioned heart that engages in regular physical activity does not have to work as hard to pump blood. If the heart pumps with ease, the force on arteries decreases, lowering blood pressure.
2. Improves cholesterol levels
Moderate exercise can help to increase heart protective “good” high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. In addition, some studies have shown that vigorous-intensity activities show benefit in decreasing “bad” low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and triglycerides.
3. Healthy weight maintenance
The heart is working harder if an individual is carrying excess weight. This can increase risk of heart disease and stroke due to the stress on the heart. Exercise has been proven to be one of the biggest indicators of ability to maintain lost weight. When paired with a heart healthy diet it can optimize heart health.
4. Improved mood management
Chronic stress can put your heart at risk due to circulating high levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Regular exercise reduces levels of this hormone while at the same time helps your brain release endorphins, improving mood. In addition, regular exercise can enhance sleep quality, another bonus for mood management.
Physical Activity Recommendations
For optimal heart health, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends combining aerobic exercise with strength training. Aerobic activities are those that increase your heart rate, conditioning your heart to pump blood and oxygen to the rest of your body. Examples include running, biking, brisk walking, or swimming. Resistance training or weightlifting strengthens your muscles, increasing their ability to pull oxygen from the blood. The AHA recommends incorporating activities that are within your ability, beginning with the simple goal of avoiding inactivity. From there, they recommend working up to a goal of at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity per week.
Kim Meeuwsen, RDN, CSOWM is a registered dietitian and Certified Specialist in Obesity and Weight Management from West Michigan. Kim has over 10 years of experience providing nutrition care to both inpatients and outpatients in acute care and rehabilitation settings. Her experience is diverse, counseling families and patients with various disease states across the lifespan. Kim’s passion is promoting and teaching health optimization with food first.
American Heart Association | To be a relentless force for a world of longer, healthier lives, 2022. Accessed May 11, 2022. https://www.heart.org
Mann, S., Beedie, C., & Jimenez, A. (2013). Differential effects of aerobic exercise, resistance training and combined exercise modalities on cholesterol and the lipid profile: Review, synthesis and recommendations. Sports Medicine, 44(2), 211–221. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-013-0110-5