Your heart is like any other muscle in your body – it can be strengthened with regular exercise. A stronger heart is a more efficient heart – one that’s better able to pump blood throughout your body. It can also push out more blood with every beat, which lowers your heart rate and keeps blood pressure under control.
There are three types of exercise that can help strengthen your heart:
- Cardiovascular – The goal of this type of exercise is to get your heart rate to a higher level than it is while performing your daily activities. The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise per week. Examples include running, cycling, brisk walking, swimming and dancing – such as a group exercise class like Zumba.
- Strength and resistance – This type of training can help build overall strength and increase lean body mass, so you have less visceral fat around your heart. It can also help lower your total cholesterol and blood sugar. Most adults should complete two strength and resistance training sessions per week. Examples include lifting weights, using resistance bands and body weight exercises, such as squats or push-ups.
- Flexibility – Stretching increases your blood flow and energy levels. Take time to focus on flexibility daily – even if it’s just five or ten minutes. Examples include light stretching and yoga.
If you haven’t exercised before, it might feel a little intimidating at the beginning. But everyone has to start somewhere. Here are a few tips to help you get going:
- Check in with your physician – It’s a good idea to see your doctor for a physical exam before starting a new exercise routine. He or she can help you understand your current health and determine whether you’re healthy enough to exercise.
- Consult a fitness professional – A fitness professional can help you set goals and work toward them. They can also help you learn how to use different pieces of equipment in the gym and how to use your heart rate and blood pressure to stay within your fitness limits.
- Pick activities you enjoy – Choosing exercise you enjoy makes it easier to stay motivated so you’ll stick with it. Adding variety to your routine can also help. Instead of always running on a treadmill, try mixing in cycling, stair climbing and rowing.
- Avoid doing too much, too soon – When you’re first starting, it’s tempting to go all out. But this can quickly lead to injury or burnout. A better approach is to start slowly and gradually progress. For example, start with three, 30-minute workouts per week. As you gain fitness, you can increase the number of sessions and duration.
- Track your progress – Seeing how far you’ve come on your journey can help you stay motivated to continue. It can be helpful to track the number of workouts, types of workouts, weight, body mass index, body fat percentage, heart rate and blood pressure.
Edward-Elmhurst Health & Fitness provides free fitness classes and workshops to help you learn more about how exercise can help improve heart health. Our goal is to help you take control of your health so you can live better for years to come.