It is never too early or too late to care for your heart proactively. Whether you are enjoying the treasured days of youth or have lived and loved well through many years, your heart remains with you through it all. To help you take steps to strengthen your heart, we have compiled some of the best exercises for the heart that you can implement into your lifestyle as you see fit.
The 6 Best Exercises for Heart Health
To establish a well-rounded exercise plan for optimizing your heart health, it is a good idea to focus on three areas: cardio, strength and flexibility. Cardio and strengthening exercises directly impact your heart health. In contrast, flexibility exercises have a more indirect impact on your heart health by helping you perform cardio and strengthening exercises with minimal injury risk. Some flexibility exercises also reduce stress, which directly impacts the long-term health of your heart.
In that light, here are six different ways that you can strengthen your heart!
Two of the best cardio exercises you can do for heart health are swimming and interval training.
Taking laps at the local pool or simply going for a leisurely dip are great ways to improve your heart health, especially if you suffer from stiff joints and achy bones. Since you can float more easily in water than in air, exercising in water puts less pressure on your joints than on land.
However, the heart health benefits of swimming go beyond joint protection. Water also provides natural resistance to your movements. If you’ve ever attempted to run in the pool, you probably know this from experience. This resistance, combined with the minimal impact of exercising in water, allows you to exercise with more vigor and reduces injury risk. Moreover, your heart works harder anytime you add a little bit of resistance to your workout and experiences increased health benefits as a result.
If you are healthy, strong and do not have any cardiovascular issues, you may also benefit from cold-water swimming, which has been tied to increased heart health benefits. However, if you plan to make a habit of cold-water swimming, consult your doctor first. It is also essential to gradually acclimate your body to the colder temperatures so you can receive the health benefits safely.
2. Interval Training
Interval training, also known as moderate-intensity or high-intensity interval training (MIIT or HIIT), involves brief bursts of moderate- to high-intensity workouts followed by extended active recovery periods. So if your joints are strong and you’d prefer to stay on dry land, interval training is an excellent and time-efficient way to be proactive with your heart health.
Interval training continuously raises and lowers your heart rate, which increases the amount of oxygen your body can use during exercise, also known as your VO2 Max level. As such, Interval training improves your blood pressure, strengthens your heart muscles and elevates cardiovascular efficiency.
Most interval training workout sessions last between 10 and 20 minutes. However, the intensity is increased during that time so you experience the effects of an entire workout in a shorter period. Even though interval training increases the intensity of the workouts, researchers have found this type of exercise poses minimal risk of complications for individuals with heart-related concerns. Still, you should consult your doctor before trying interval training if you have heart-related concerns.
Strength training exercises like resistance training and core workouts can, directly and indirectly, improve your heart health.
3. Resistance Training
Although cardio is the usual exercise of choice for improving heart health, it is not the only type of exercise that can benefit your heart. So if you prefer lifting weights to running a marathon, regular resistance training can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease as effectively as cardio. Resistance training refers to any exercise that builds muscle through resistance, whether that involves dumbbells, elastic bands or your body weight.
A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) shows that resistance training reduces the amount of pericardial adipose tissue (PAT) in the lower chambers of your heart, which is linked to cardiovascular disease. That same study showed that combining resistance training with interval training also reduces epicardial adipose tissue (EAT), which is tied to various cardiovascular diseases, as well.
4. Core Workouts
Core workouts can help your heart in several ways. They can help you lose excess abdominal fat, which is known to cause increased cholesterol and blood pressure levels. Furthermore, your ability to exercise depends on core strength, and a strong core helps prevent injury from falls and throwing out your back. As such, core workouts also indirectly impact your heart health, as they ensure you can continue to exercise well as you get older.
Exercises that increase flexibility make it easier to perform other exercises and reduce your risk of injury.
So far, the exercises we have recommended have focused primarily on physical benefits to your heart health. In comparison, yoga helps your heart more holistically. The benefits yoga can provide to your heart health are mental, emotional and physical.
Yoga enhances emotional resilience, which reduces stress and helps you stay calm in challenging situations. It is also well-known that individuals who experience high-stress levels are at greater risk of cardiovascular disease than those who handle stressful situations with emotional regulation.
Stress triggers your fight or flight response, elevating your heart rate and blood pressure. Chronic stress keeps your heart rate and blood pressure at these elevated levels, harming your cardiovascular health. By reducing stress, yoga also helps reduce your risk factor for cardiovascular disease by addressing one of the leading contributing factors of heart conditions.
In addition to helping you cope with stress, yoga improves your overall fitness and core strength, particularly if you practice an active form of yoga. Thus, yoga also helps you stay fit so you can continue to take care of your heart well into the future.
If you prefer simple stretching to the mystique of yoga, you will still experience many heart health benefits. A recent study in the Journal of Physiology suggests that an ongoing practice of passive stretching training leads to improved vascular function and arterial elasticity. In other words, stretching can bring increased blood flow and healthier arteries. At the very least, stretching helps you remain flexible and physically fit so you can exercise without concern of injury or joint stiffness, which, as we have already mentioned, will have a positive impact on your long-term cardiovascular health!
Take Charge of Your Heart Health With Modern Heart and Vascular
If you would like more information on how to strengthen your heart, our experienced board-certified cardiologists at Modern Heart and Vascular would gladly offer you their expertise on what you can do to optimize your heart health. Our primary focus is on the prevention of cardiovascular diseases. As such, we will do whatever we can to keep your heart as healthy as it can be, whether that involves medical guidance or our advanced cardiovascular testing technologies. We welcome you to call us today or schedule a consultation with one of our doctors! If you’d like to learn more about our practice, read our providers’ bios.
This article does not provide medical advice. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you need cardiovascular care, please call us at 832-644-8930.