Heart-smart workouts: The importance of exercise in heart health

Heart Health

by Baylor Scott & White Health

Sep 6, 2023

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is one of the leading causes of mortality and morbidity worldwide. Today, many of us live sedentary lifestyles. This, combined with poor dietary habits, means that incorporating exercise into our lives is more important than ever for our health. Regular physical activity has been shown to have a profound impact on the prevention, management and improvement of cardiovascular conditions.

Heart health exercises and recommendations

The World Health Organization (WHO) provides recommendations for physical activity and exercise to promote health and well-being. According to WHO, adults between 18 and 64 years old should:

  • Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity per week 
  • Practice muscle-strengthening activities involving major muscle groups (such as the chest, arms, back, core and legs) two or more days per week
  • Reduce sedentary behavior and take regular breaks from prolonged sitting -- for example, standing up for 10 minutes or walking during a lunch break

Adults over 65 are encouraged to follow similar guidelines, with an emphasis on activities that improve balance and prevent falls.

It's important to note that these recommendations are general guidelines and should be adapted based on individual health conditions, fitness levels and goals. It's always a good idea to consult a healthcare professional before starting a new exercise routine, especially if you have any underlying health concerns.

Examples of heart-healthy exercises

There are many options to try if you’re looking to improve your cardiovascular health and include more exercise in your daily routine:

  • Brisk walking: a simple and effective way to increase heart rate and improve overall cardiovascular health
  • Running or jogging: builds endurance and strengthens the heart muscles
  • Cycling: helps improve circulation and stamina.
  • Swimming: provides a full-body workout without putting excessive strain on joints
  • Classes such as aerobics or Zumba: group classes combine cardiovascular exercises with upbeat music and social interaction
  • Elliptical training: a low-impact option that works both the upper and lower body while increasing heart rate
  • Strength training: lifting weights or using resistance bands challenges your muscles and increases strength
  • Jump rope: a fun and effective way to get your heart rate up and improve coordination
  • Yoga: certain forms of yoga, like Vinyasa or Power Yoga, can elevate heart rate and improve flexibility and strength

Need some motivation to get moving? Baylor Scott & White Health’s fitness and wellness centers offer classes and other programs that can help get you and your heart in shape.

The benefits of routine exercise in cardiovascular health

Routine exercise serves as a cornerstone in maintaining and improving cardiovascular health. Through consistent physical activity, individuals can positively influence key risk factors associated with heart disease and stroke. Regular exercise strengthens the heart and promotes vasodilation (the widening or relaxation of blood vessels), which improves blood pressure. Exercise can also help manage cholesterol levels by increasing levels of protective high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol while reducing harmful low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol.

Additionally, exercise aids in weight management, which decreases the risks of obesity-related cardiovascular complications. By enhancing insulin sensitivity, routine exercise reduces the likelihood of type 2 diabetes and its associated cardiovascular risks.

Exercise also offers psychological benefits, alleviating stress and promoting mental well-being, which contribute to cardiovascular resilience. Overall, routine exercise stands as a transformative strategy, empowering individuals to take control of their cardiovascular destinies and lead healthier, more vibrant lives.

Does the time of day you exercise impact your heart health?

The timing of exercise is a growing topic of conversation within the medical community. Researchers are looking at what role internal body processes play in determining how effective your fitness efforts might be. For example, some studies are exploring whether circadian rhythms — daily cycles that help coordinate functions like sleep-wake cycles, body temperature and hormone production — and other physical processes can impact fitness results.

While research continues to explore the relationship between exercise timing and health outcomes, what remains certain is that regular exercise (regardless of the time) is paramount for overall well-being and cardiovascular health. Individual variations in chronotype (your internal "body clock"), lifestyle choices and physiological responses must be considered when finding your optimal exercise time.

Cardiac rehabilitation exercise for patients with known cardiac disease

Cardiac rehabilitation exercise programs have a crucial role in the care and recovery of those with known cardiac disease. These structured programs, conducted under the supervision of healthcare professionals, provide a safe and tailored environment to engage in physical activity following heart attacks or cardiac events or procedures.

There are both physical and psychological benefits of cardiac rehab exercises. By progressively increasing exercise intensity and duration, people can enhance cardiovascular endurance, improve heart function, and boost their overall fitness. These programs also offer education on heart-healthy lifestyles, dietary choices, and stress management techniques. Regular participation in cardiac rehab exercise promotes optimal recovery and empowers patients to regain control of their health, ultimately leading to a higher quality of life and improved long-term heart health.

The journey to cardiovascular well-being is affected by the choices we make. From blood pressure regulation and cholesterol management to weight control, insulin sensitivity and mental well-being, exercise can transform many areas of health. By embracing the power of routine exercise, individuals can rewrite their cardiovascular destinies, forging a path toward longevity and vitality.

In a world where cardiovascular diseases affect many of us, routine exercise stands as a beacon of hope, empowering individuals to take control of their health and rewrite their stories.

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