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How Does Exercise Help Your Heart? What the Science Says

You can’t go more than three days without hearing the importance of exercise. Whether online, in the paper, or on television, personal health dominates the airwaves. There’s so much noise, in fact, that the message often overshadows the details.

Every year, 25 percent of Americans pass away from heart disease. How does exercise help your heart perform its best? What’s so important about exercise, anyway? 

 Here’s what you need to know about exercise and cardiovascular health, as well as some tips to get started.

1. How Does Exercise Help Your Heart?

Muscle cells enlarge in response to exercise and, in turn, become more powerful. Just like your arms and legs, your heart is a muscle, too. You need to put it to the test to improve its performance.

From a very narrow-minded perspective, a stronger heart is a better heart. Although it may beat faster during exercise, it won’t have to work as hard during downtime. Those who perform regular exercise have a lower resting heart rate.

Your resting heart rate is a major health indicator. For every additional beat per minute, your risk of mortality increases by three percent. That’s why temporarily taxing your heart in exercise leads to long-term health benefits.

Bouts of regular exercise can clear plaque from your arteries, a hard substance that narrows blood passages. Without intervention, plaque can block blood flow entirely. This can lead to a lack of blood to the heart, which prevents the circulation your tissues rely on.

Exercise also plays an important role in maintaining healthy blood pressure. The higher your blood pressure, the harder your heart has to work to circulate oxygen throughout your body.

Long-term high blood pressure can lead to lifelong damage to the heart and arteries. It also puts you at risk of other health conditions, such as atrial fibrillation.

If you’re at risk of atrial fibrillation, learn more about its signs and symptoms.

2. How Much Should You Exercise?

Exercise and cardiovascular health are inextricably linked. But how much you should exercise depends on several factors. Many people are sedentary at work or school, which means they’ll have to go out of their way to meet their recommended exercise quota.

The American Heart Association suggests adults exercise for at least 150 minutes per week. If you perform very intense exercise, you can get away with only 75 minutes of exercise every week.

Those under 18 years old require a higher allotment of activity. They should exercise 60 minutes every day, or seven hours a week.

Keep in mind that these are the minimum guidelines. By getting more exercise into your daily routine, you’ll gain additional health benefits.

3. How Do You Exercise Your Heart?

Not every exercise is made the same. You could spend hours at the gym every day with minimal cardiovascular activity. How?

Because workouts typically target a specific group of muscles. Your heart will work harder while you’re lifting weights, but your biceps are getting the main benefit. To strengthen your heart, include aerobic workouts which are activities that get your heart pumping.

Not sure where to start? Aerobic exercise comes in many different intensities. But thankfully, most forms of aerobic exercise don’t require expensive pieces of machinery.

4. Types of Aerobic Exercise

Beginners should take it easy. If you’re out of shape, you’ll burn yourself out trying to reach your recommended allotment of exercise. You might be able to get away with diving immediately into a new diet, but you likely won’t find success when it comes to working out.

Start with low-intensity aerobic exercise such as walking or jogging around the neighborhood. If you perform a 20-minute session every day, you’ll meet your weekly requirements. Easy, right?

But as your heart strengthens, you’ll have to do harder tasks to cultivate more results. That’s when you step up to moderate-intensity aerobic workouts.

This might be something as simple as using a jump rope at home, running instead of jogging, or going for a swim. In fact, swimming is one of the easiest ways to get a great workout. It’s low-impact, which means you won’t be as sore during and after the session.

High-intensity workouts include the dreaded burpees, mountain climbers, and lateral lunges. These are more taxing, which means you won’t have to exercise as often to enjoy the health benefits.

5. Other Ways to Have a Healthy Heart

Exercise is one of the most important contributors to cardiovascular health. However, there are many things people do – or don’t do – that can harm their heart and limit the effects of exercise.

According to the CDC, tobacco narrows arteries, increases plaque build-up, and promotes the formation of blood clots. If you’re serious about heart health, stay away from tobacco products.

Diets high in carbohydrates, sodium, and saturated fats can impact your blood pressure and put more stress on your heart. Stick to a healthy diet with whole grains and plenty of fruits and vegetables.

And, lastly, the more you weigh, the harder your heart has to work. Maintain a healthy weight through exercise and a healthy diet to develop better heart health.

Take the First Step Towards Better Health

How does exercise help your heart? In addition to stronger muscles, it reduces blood pressure, body weight, and arterial plaque. All of these improvements lead to better heart function and cardiovascular wellness.

And it all starts with a single step. Get started today by taking a walk around the neighborhood and incorporating aerobic exercise into your daily routine. Once you get started, it’ll be hard to stop.

Looking for more health and fitness advice? Find more on our blog.