6 Heart Health Benefits of Exercise
Being physically active is a major step toward good heart health.
Physical activity is one of the most effective tools for improving overall health. A few of the major benefits include:
- Strengthening the heart muscle
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Preventing artery damage caused by high cholesterol, high blood sugar, and high blood pressure that can lead to heart attack or stroke
Each of these outcomes alone is worth consideration, but taking action to ensure they all happen at once? Even better.
How Can Heart Disease Impact You?
In the U.S., heart disease is a leading cause of death for both men and women.
Nearly 25% of all deaths are linked to heart disease. Additionally, heart disease is expensive. It costs billions of dollars each year in health care services, medications, and lost productivity due to death.
People who don’t exercise are almost twice as likely to get heart disease than people who are active. This increased likelihood of illness makes it essential to consider the heart benefits of exercise whenever possible.
Heart Benefits of Exercise Aren’t Only Superficial
There are plenty of reasons why people choose to exercise and improve overall health.
Regular exercise can help you:
- Burn calories
- Lower your blood pressure
- Reduce LDL “bad” cholesterol
- Boost HDL “good” cholesterol
Are you ready to get started? Do you want to find ways to do what’s best for your body?
Keep reading to learn why exercise is important for heart health and what the most beneficial exercises are.
How Does Physical Activity Benefit Heart Health?
Understanding how physical activity benefits your heart may provide motivation to get moving. Here are six heart benefits of exercise – and why they are so important.
Exercise lowers blood pressure
Exercise works like beta-blocker medication to slow the heart rate and lower blood pressure. This happens both at rest and also when exercising. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease, so lowering this immediately decreases the risk.
Exercise is key to weight control
Especially when combined with a smart diet, being physically active is an essential component for losing weight. It’seven more important for keeping it off. This in turn helps optimize heart health. Being overweight puts stress on the heart and is a risk factor for heart disease and stroke.
Exercise helps strengthen muscles
A combination of aerobic, heart-pumping workouts and strength training is considered best for heart health. These exercises improve the muscles’ ability to draw oxygen from the circulating blood. That reduces the need for the heart (a muscular organ itself) to work harder to pump more blood to the muscles. Whatever your age is, strong muscles mean a stronger body.
Exercise can help you quit smoking
As smokers become more fit, they often quit. People who are fit in the first place are less likely to ever start smoking. Why is this important? Smoking is one of the top risk factors for heart disease because it damages the structure and function of blood vessels. Weakened blood vessels put you at increased risk for future illness – don’t let this happen!
Exercise lowers stress
Stress hormones can put an extra burden on the heart. Exercise of any kind – aerobic (like running), resistance-oriented (like weight training) or flexibility-focused (like yoga) – can help you relax and ease stress. Lower stress levels also allow you time to focus on other areas, too. Lower your stress and increase your health; it’s that simple!
Exercise reduces inflammation
With regular exercise, chronic inflammation is reduced as the body adapts to the challenge of exercise on many bodily systems. This is an important factor for reducing the adverse effects of many of the diseases just mentioned. Keeping inflammation levels down over time allows for improved bodily function – a major goal.
The heart benefits of exercise are numerous and they depend on your commitment level. Start thinking about ways to get more active, and go from there.
Need some quick tips to fit exercise into your day? Start with small activities, like these, and build up from there.
Simple Ways to Improve Heart Health With Exercise
- Park your car at the far end of a parking lot, so you have further to walk to a building’s entrance.
- Choose the stairs over the elevator.
- Take a walk during part of your lunch break.
- Wake up a few minutes earlier and stretch or exercise before you do anything else.
- Get up and walk to speak to those within your home – resist the urge to text or call.
Start Exercising Regularly to Promote Heart Health
First, think about the activities you enjoy and how fit you are.
Remember, you can always build toward harder and more challenging exercises over time. Set a goal and build up to it. Make sure that this goal is realistic, or it may seem disheartening. Begin at a level you feel comfortable with, and then work up to more difficult levels of activity.
Also, don’t forget to check with your doctor or other medical professional before beginning. They’ll make sure you’re ready for the activity you have in mind and give you tips to exercise safely and effectively. Consulting with them is smart, but it’s also safe.
Your exercise plan should include three types of exercises:
- Aerobic exercises
- Resistance and strength training exercises
- Stretching and flexibility exercises
Exercises in each category target slightly different areas of the body. Incorporating all of them into your routine ensures that whole-body health is improved. There is not just one specific target. This is another reason why it’s important to talk to a doctor or physical therapist before beginning to exercise. Creating a comprehensive exercise plan for the benefit of your heart health needs variety.
Understanding what each type of exercise accomplishes is a great place to start.
Running, jogging, and biking are some examples of this. The goal of aerobic exercise is to move fast enough to raise your heart rate and breathe harder. However, you should still be able to talk to someone while you’re doing it. Otherwise, you are pushing yourself too hard.
Ideally, your exercise plan will include at least 20 minutes a day for five days a week.
Examples of aerobic exercises include:
- Playing tennis
- Jumping rope
Heart-pumping exercise is what healthcare professionals have in mind when they recommend weekly moderate aerobic activity.
Aerobic exercise provides heart benefits each time it’s done. It improves circulation, lowering blood pressure and heart rate. It can also reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. If you already live with diabetes, aerobic exercise helps you control your blood glucose.
If you have joint problems, choose a low-impact activity, like swimming or walking. There are plenty of ways to modify aerobic exercises to make them work for you.
Resistance Training and Strength Exercises
You can use weights, resistance bands, or your own body weight to complete these.
Resistance training helps reduce fat and create leaner muscle mass. Research shows that when combined with aerobic exercise, strength training may help raise HDL (“good” cholesterol) and lower LDL (“bad” cholesterol).
The goal is to do these exercises two to three times per week. It’s important to allow your muscles to recover for a day in between sessions. This gives you a chance to see how your body responds, as well as to ensure that you aren’t overdoing it. Too much, too soon may cause setbacks in your exercise – and no one wants this to happen.
Aerobic exercise and resistance training are the most important for heart health. For this reason, they often make up the bulk of recommended exercise plans
Although flexibility doesn’t directly contribute to heart health, it provides a good foundation for performing other exercises.
Stretching, Flexibility and Balance Exercises
First things first: stretch gently; it shouldn’t hurt.
Stretch after you’ve warmed up or finished exercising. If you do this a couple of times a week, you’ll gradually become more flexible. This allows you to continue toward your aerobic and strength training goals with greater ease. It also helps to eliminate joint pain, cramping, and other muscular issues.
You won’t feel the heart benefits of exercise unless you are well rounded. Stretching helps this happen.
But which exercises are the right choice for you?
Tai chi, yoga, and pilates improve these skills. In addition, your doctor or other medical professionals, like physical therapists can recommend basic stretches you can do at home. These stretches are done before and after traditional exercise, in addition to or instead of other options, and don’t need to be complicated.
Sometimes, it’s as simple as bending your knees, neck, back or waist. It all depends on what you need – and what your long and short term heart health goals are.
Physical Therapy Can Help Improve Heart Health
Seeking the advice of doctors and nurses may be your first instinct when you want to improve heart health, but there is another option.
Physical therapists are movement specialists. They have specific training in evaluating and optimizing musculoskeletal performance. This is what they do daily.
They are available and can help you reach your fitness goals faster and more efficiently. Additionally, physical therapists can help you establish an exercise program for your current fitness level that progresses over time.
For people at risk of heart disease and other conditions, physical therapy is a beneficial treatment option.
Research shows that when people begin physical therapy as a preventive measure or at the early onset of symptoms, they experience positive health outcomes. Physical therapy can also save people from costly surgeries and injections. Lastly, physical therapy can decrease the need for medications — both over the counter and prescription.
Why not reach out and see what a physical therapist can do for you and your heart health?
The best part? In many situations, you don’t need a physician’s referral to get started.
All 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the US Virgin Islands allow patients to seek some level of treatment from a licensed physical therapist without a prescription or referral from a physician. This is called direct access. There may be some restrictions in your state. However, for the most part, this means that you self-refer to physical therapy as a treatment.
What could be better than deciding you want to make a difference and being able to begin almost immediately?
Another benefit is that physical therapy has become more accessible and convenient with the widespread adoption of Telehealth via platforms like BetterTelehealth. These virtual sessions allow you to connect with a licensed physical therapist via secure video conferencing from any device with a camera and stable internet connection.