The best exercises to improve your heart health are called aerobic or cardiovascular exercises. They are any form of activity that increases your respiratory and heart rate, and that challenge your heart to work harder and become stronger. Cardiovascular fitness will improve the way your body uses oxygen. As your heart becomes stronger, you’ll find that you aren’t winded walking up the stairs, that you can perform physical activity longer, and that your resting heart rate will be lower, meaning your heart is more efficient at pumping blood through your body. Though any aerobic exercise is good for your heart, the following physical activities are the best for heart health.
Strength and resistance training are important elements of a good physical activity routine. The American Heart Association recommends strength-training at least twice per week. A well-rounded strength-training program provides the following benefits:
- Increased strength of bones, muscles and connective tissues
- Lower risk of injury
- Increased muscle mass, making it easier for your body to burn calories and maintain a healthy weight
- Better quality of life
Brisk walking and running are great ways to get moving with minimal impact on your body. Whether you hop on a treadmill or hit the road, brisk walking is a natural way to improve your fitness. Make sure to wear supportive, comfortable walking shoes, listen to some music to get you pumped, and get moving. Though a leisure stroll is better than sitting on your couch, push yourself to walk at a fast pace to achieve a moderate intensity level.
A regular walking program can also:
- Improve your cholesterol profile
- Lower blood pressure
- Increase your energy and stamina
- Boost bone strength
- Prevent weight gain
If you want to start running instead of walking, start out with a brisk walk and add 1 to 2 minutes of running for every 5 minutes of walking. As you get more fit, you can increase the minutes you run until you don’t need to walk in between.
While swimming in a pool might not seem like much of a workout, it can actually be a full body fitness challenge. Swimming laps or even participating in water fitness classes will raise your heart rate and improve your heart health because the water provides resistance that will improve your muscular strength and tone. Swimming is a safe alternative if you have joint problems that walking or running can aggravate.
Another cardiovascular activity that is easy on the joints is cycling. Cycling is a low-impact exercise that you can do in the gym, in a spin class, or outside on the road or trails. You don’t even have to set aside specific time to do it if you live somewhere you can bike to work or to do your errands. Even better, you can bike solo or join a cycling club and enjoy the camaraderie. If you take your bike off-road, you’ll also be building strength and toning your lower body as well as your core muscles.
The AHA recommends that adults get 150 minutes or more of moderate-intensity physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week; even short 10-minute activity sessions can be added up over the week to reach this goal. Ask friends and family what they’re doing to stay active, and make a plan to keep your hearts healthy together.