What are the best exercises for improving cardiovascular health?

The benefits of a healthy heart for longevity and quality of life are too great to ignore. A regular exercise routine will help keep your heart healthy for many years to come. Run, swim, play golf, walk, play basketball, dance, do yoga, whatever you like to do. The most important thing is to go out and do it.

Aerobic or cardiovascular exercise is the best way to improve heart health. Aerobic exercise, also known as “cardiovascular exercise”, uses the repetitive contraction of large muscle groups to make the heart beat faster and is the type of exercise most beneficial to the cardiovascular system (the heart and blood vessels). Examples of aerobic exercise include walking, biking and swimming, but also everyday activities such as doing household chores, working in the garden, or playing with your children or grandchildren. By changing your exercise routine regularly, you'll work different muscles and reduce the risk of overload injuries.

Aerobic exercise involves moving the largest muscles in the body, such as those in the arms and legs, so that they warm up and run out of breath. In general, making exercise a priority, whether you've had a heart attack or not, often leads to other healthy lifestyle choices, such as heart-healthy eating habits, managing your weight, minimizing your alcohol consumption, and consistently taking any medications you're taking. Doing so not only improves the way blood moves throughout the body, lowers blood pressure and cholesterol, and reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes, but it can also lower the risk of heart disease. Having that data, which includes determining your target heart rate zone, will help you exercise more effectively and consistently and be more likely to achieve and maintain the desired results.

You don't need to use the same exercise strategy that I use to get the heart-healthy benefits of cardiovascular exercise. Van Iterson points out that exercise to improve heart health applies to anyone, regardless of age, gender, origin or socioeconomic level. Keeping track of your heart rate when you exercise can help you control the amount of physical stress you're experiencing and to know if you're exercising in a way that benefits you and your body the most. Cardiac rehabilitation expert Erik Van Iterson, PhD, MS, explains why exercise is important for heart health, ways to exercise and why you should pay attention to your heart rate.

A key part of this schedule is varying the types and intensity of the exercise you do on different days. Everyone with a heart or circulatory condition can do balance and flexibility exercises, but if you're taking blood pressure medications, you'll need to be especially careful. Warming up before exercise and cooling down afterwards is important for everyone, but especially if you have angina. Talk to your doctor about enrolling in a cardiac rehabilitation program, where you can exercise under the supervision of medical professionals and, at the same time, learn to maintain a safe and effective long-term exercise plan.

Nikki Seeley
Nikki Seeley

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