How to Exercise Your Way to a Stronger Heart
Exercising and eating right is supposedly the most straightforward path to a healthy life, but when it comes to your heart, not all moves (or meals, for that matter) yield the same results. Too much movement too soon can have cause adverse reactions; too little can prevent your heart from getting the workout it needs to grow stronger. To find just the right one, we asked a cardiologist and fitness expert to share the exercises you need to move your way to a healthier cardiovascular system.
Consistency is key.
Any form of aerobic exercise or resistance training can bolster your cardiovascular health when performed five days a week—for 30 minutes at a time—says Dr. Anuj Shah, MD, an Interventional Cardiologist with Apex Heart and Vascular. "The most important thing is to develop a regular exercise routine that will allow you to break a sweat and be mildly short of breath, but still be able to speak a few words in a conversation," he says. Once you've found a regimen that helps you meet this baseline, he suggests switching it up every two to three weeks to train different muscle groups.
Get your blood pumping.
People generally affiliate heart-healthy fitness routines with heart pumping, sweat-inducing moves, but that isn't necessarily the case. "We look predominantly at cardiovascular exercises like running, jogging, swimming, and biking," notes Lauren Jenai, a health and fitness expert and founder of Manifest, "but it is important to remember that all kinds of exercise can raise your heart rate. You are not limited to traditional cardio to increase heart health." Jenai explains that practicing yoga, weight training, and basic calisthenics can also get that heart rate up where it needs to be.
For most people, starting an exercise regimen should involve low intensity activity. "However, you should check with your cardiologist first if you have a history of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney disease, arthritis, or are being treated for cancer," Dr. Shah flags. "Likewise, if you are normally sedentary and not very active, it is recommended that you see your doctor first before starting a regular exercise regimen." Low-intensity activities, like walking at a casual pace, swimming laps, using an elliptical, cycling gently, and light weight lifting are all good starting points.
Check in with your body.
Beginning a new routine often leads to muscle soreness—but Dr. Shah recommends calling your doctor if you experience pressure, discomfort, or pain in your chest, or palpitations when you're not moving. Shortness of breath at rest, dizziness, lightheadedness, loss of consciousness, fainting, or pain or swelling in any body part that impacts your ability to exercise are also warning signs that you need to discontinue your workout and check in with your health professional.