We exercise for a wide variety of reasons: to maintain a healthy body weight, to improve our mental health as well as to maintain strength and flexibility as we age. While these are all great reasons to exercise, here’s another important one: Exercise helps keep our heart healthy and strong.
You may be wondering what kind of exercise is the most beneficial for heart health. Kerry J. Stewart, Ed.D., an exercise physiologist from Johns Hopkins, shares that “a mix of aerobic exercise and resistance training are the most important for heart health.” Cardiologist Michael Weinrauch, MD agrees.
If you are age 50 and above, you will have to have a stress test done under the care of your doctor before starting your fitness journey.
Here are three types of exercise and their role in heart health:
- Aerobic Exercise. Elevating your heart rate with aerobic activity is an important component of a heart-healthy exercise routine. Walking, running, biking, swimming, and other aerobic activities get your blood pumping and strengthen your heart. It is recommended that 150 minutes/week of moderate aerobic exercise can help lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol and lower triglycerides. Bonus, it can help lower blood sugar as well!
- Strength Training. Strength training helps build lean muscle mass and decreases body fat, which in turn can lower your cholesterol and blood pressure. Strength training also helps maintain a healthy body weight. Examples are lifting weights, practicing yoga, or outdoor activities like gardening, like digging and shoveling. Doing these exercises two times per week will benefit your heart’s health.
- Flexibility and Balance. Maintaining flexibility and balance has a more indirect impact on your heart. Flexibility allows you to engage in aerobic and strengthening activities more easily, and lessens joint and muscle pain. Maintaining balance prevents falls and injuries, as well. So while exercises like tai chi, pilates and stretching might not directly affect your heart health, they keep you in shape to do the heart-healthy activities you love.
In addition to exercise, diet plays an important role as well. We recommend a heart-healthy diet low in sodium, saturated fats and trans fats. Studies show diets like the DASH diet and Mediterranean diet can lower blood pressure and cholesterol well.
The Dos and Don’ts of Exercise
1. DO – Start up again doing 50% the intensity that you did the last time you exercised.
2. DO – Spend up to half your time stretching. Try doing yoga and definitely stretch after each workout!
3. DO – Exercises standing up. Why? Standing burns more calories than sitting, and standing is generally safer than sitting because you are distributing weight over more joints than sitting.
4. DO – work your abdominals. Strong abdominals make everything better. We love planks or isometrics using a gym ball.
5. DON’T – Do it alone. If you are unsure of something, you may be doing it wrong. If you do it wrong, you may get hurt. Don’t be that person! Ask an expert!
Resources for Cardio & Strength
If you don’t know where to start with your fitness journey, we’re here to help! We have put together a list of great at-home exercise apps, workout gear, and additional resources that will help you stay motivated and consistent to get the heart-healthy exercise you need.
Join a gym! There are many types of gyms all over the country, which can be overwhelming at times. Which one to choose? You can decide what your fitness goals are and go from there! You can also look in your area for local gyms that fit your needs. Here are a few of our favorites:
- Planet Fitness
- LifeTime Fitness
- Anytime Fitness
- Pure Barre
- OrangeTheory Fitness
- LA Fitness
If going to a gym isn’t for you-try “making” a home gym for yourself! Here are a few things we use regularly for at home exercise.
- Exercise bands-You can use for a variety of exercises. Try putting it onto your elliptical to give yourself some bicep curls or shoulder presses to work both cardio and strength at the same time.
- Yoga mat– This is a necessity if you want to keep your carpet free from sweat and your joints free from pain on a hard floor.
- Can’t go wrong with a few dumbbells! You can swap with medicine balls-they are super versatile & useful to throw, twist, turn, or bend.
- A resistance band set is another quality set to have on-hand to target all of your muscle groups.
- Use yoga blocks to support your range of motion, bringing you closer to the ground. You can use them to support your back, hips, and more during yoga poses.
- Need yoga guidance? Use YouTube videos, or even better, the Down Dog App – not only for yoga, but also barre, meditation, HIIT, and prenatal yoga.
- You could use the Peloton App for strength, yoga, outdoor running, stretching, Bootcamp, running, and meditation workouts, streaming on-demand.
If you live in an area where you can get outside to get fresh air and exercise, check out your local Parks and Rec for additional information!
- Hiking or Biking Trails. It’s a great way to get some steps in and be in nature.
- Public Golf Courses. Walking the course is great aerobic without even knowing it.
- Some gyms and fitness studios take their classes outside in the summer months when the weather is nice!
- Hitting up a near by track to make some laps around.
- Paddle boarding and canoeing
- Swimming is a great way to get in touch with nature, challenge the body with an all-over workout and cool down.
If you want to get healthy and meet friends along the way, there is a website called MeetUp! People have chosen Meetup to make real connections over shared interests. You can start a group to practice yoga, meditate, eat better, play a sport, run, hike, bike, and meet your goals together. In addition to MeetUp, you can join a kickball or softball league in your area!
Want some help getting started with your heart-healthy exercise routine? Make sure you’re fueling well! Meet with our nutrition experts to pair your new routine with your meals to reach your goals! We have dietitians that specialize in not only heart healthy diets, but experts in movement as well.
We now offer packages that include both nutrition counseling and fitness! Click here to learn more.