Eight Exercises to Promote Heart Health

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We say it all the time because it’s impossible to say it too often: You need a healthy heart, and you need to exercise to get one. And the odds are good—four in five, according to the American Heart Association—that you’re not getting enough. It’s a shame, because exercises for heart health are easy to come by, widely varying, and plenty of fun.

The latest recommendations call for at least 150 minutes per week of moderate aerobic activity. That works out to just five thirty-minute walks spread out over the course of seven days. That’s all it takes maintain or even improve heart health, even for older people who have lived a largely sedentary lifestyle.

So which exercises for heart health are best? Well, as long as you’re not pushing so hard that you injure yourself, and as long as your build up your intensity level slowly, pretty much anything that elevates your heart rate will help. Just find something that you enjoy, and don’t be afraid to try new things. Participating in a variety of exercises is better than sticking to the same thing every time.

The bottom line is that the best exercise is the exercise that you do.

Top Exercises for Heart Health

We can break types of exercises into three categories: aerobic, resistance training, and flexibility/balance. Typically when we think of cardiovascular exercises, we think of aerobic workouts. These are the ones that make our hearts beat faster. But the truth of the matter is that all three types of exercise are important. We need resistance training and balance/flexibility exercises to give us a solid foundation injury-free aerobic activity.

Aerobic

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Biking / Swimming / Running — These are the classics. These are what most of us think of when we think of exercises for heart health. Swimming is a great all-around workout if you have access to a lap pool. Biking is fun if you have a bike and you live in an area with safe roads. Running doesn’t take more than a good pair of shoes, although as exercise it can be an acquired taste. If you don’t love it, you can probably find more enjoyable alternatives.

Walking — You really can’t beat a good walk. You’re less likely to injure yourself than with more intense exercises and it’s a great activity no matter your age or fitness level. Just make sure you push your pace enough to consistently elevate your heart rate. Regular walking has been shown to improve such risk factors as cholesterol levels, blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, vascular stiffness, and mental stress.

Interval Training — Just about any exercise can be performed “interval training” style, where you alternate periods of high intensity effort with short breaks to bring the heart rate back down. You can do this while biking, swimming, running, or walking, or you can try a HIIT class at your local gym. HIIT stands for High Intensity Interval Training. It’s one of the most efficient exercises around for improving cardiovascular and overall fitness.

Not Sitting — This isn’t exactly an exercise, but it has been shown that people who fill their days with such activities as cleaning and running errands are generally healthier than those who exercise for 30 to 60 minutes and then spend the rest of their time sitting at a computer. So just get up and move!

Resistance Training

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Training to increase strength through weight lifting or resistance tubing helps lower blood pressure and improve cholesterol, and makes it safer to perform aerobic activities by reducing risk of injury. Additionally, resistance training for more than 30 minutes per week has been shown on its own to decrease the risk of heart disease by 23 percent.

Flexibility and Balance

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Exercises that increase flexibility and balance, as in resistance training, will reduce the risk of injury when it comes time for aerobic activities. A calming yoga or tai chi session is also great for lowering blood pressure and promoting heart health.