Sport & Nutrition

The Benefits of Regular Exercise for Heart Health

The human heart is a muscle; like all muscles, it benefits from regular exercise. Decades of research have shown us that regular trainings are vital for maintaining a healthy heart. But how, exactly, do they improve heart health? Let us explore how exercise can influence key heart health measurements, like heart rate and HRV (heart rate variability), and discuss how many practices you need to see benefits. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), regular exercise can help you prevent or manage numerous health conditions, including high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke. One study has shed some light, finding that even low levels of physical fitness can reduce the risk factors for cardiovascular disease, prevent heart attack, improve cholesterol levels, and reduce obesity. Furthermore, the study found that these benefits were present even in people with 20% below the average fitness level for healthy people. This is excellent news for people with heart disease who have difficulty adhering to a regular exercise regime. 

You can try other activities to find what works best as you build up your fitness level. There are two main types of exercise: aerobic and anaerobic
  • Aerobic exercise is any activity that gets your heart pumping and helps you use more oxygen. This includes walking, running, biking, swimming, and dancing. 
  • Anaerobic exercise is a more intense type of activity that is used to build muscle mass. This includes activities like lifting weights and sprinting. 
Both types of exercise have benefits for heart health. Aerobic exercise helps to strengthen your heart muscle and improve your cardiovascular fitness. When we engage in aerobic activity, our heart muscle gets more robust and more efficient at pumping blood throughout our body. This improved blood flow has several benefits for our overall health, including reducing the risk of heart disease. Anaerobic exercise, however, can help to lower blood pressure and improve cholesterol levels. 

How does exercise impact key measures of heart health?
Two key heart measurements are influenced by exercise: heart rate and heart rate variability (HRV). Heart rate measures how many times your heart beats per minute. HRV, on the other hand, measures the variability in the time interval between each heartbeat. Higher levels of HRV have been linked with better cardiovascular fitness and overall health. When you exercise, your heart rate increases. This is because your body needs more oxygen when you're active, and your heart pumps blood faster to deliver that oxygen to your muscles. As your fitness level improves, you'll notice that your resting heart rate decreases. This is because your heart becomes more efficient at pumping blood and doesn't have to work as hard to maintain a normal resting state. 
Exercise also affects HRV. When you start exercising regularly, you'll likely see an increase in HRV. However, as you continue to exercise and become more fit, your HRV level will likely plateau or even decrease slightly. This isn't cause for concern; it simply means that your cardiovascular system has adapted to the demands of regular exercise and is now working more efficiently.

How many exercises do you need? 
AHA recommends at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise—preferably spread throughout the week—for cardiovascular health. That's about 30-60 minutes a day, 5 days a week. And if you can't commit to exercising that often? Remember, even small amounts of physical activity can be beneficial. 

How to Start Exercising Regularly
Now that we know how regular exercise can benefit our hearts let's look at how to start incorporating it into our daily routines. 
  1. The best way to start is by setting realistic goals. If you're new to exercise, begin with simple goals like walking for 30 minutes daily or going to the gym thrice a week. As you become more comfortable with exercising, you can gradually increase the intensity and duration of your workouts. 
  2. Finding an activity you enjoy and will stick with long-term is also essential. There's no point in starting an exercise routine that you dread and will eventually abandon together. So if you hate running on the treadmill, don't make it part of your workout routine! Instead, try hiking, biking, swimming, or even walking around your neighborhood. And if you can't stand exercising alone, consider signing up for a group fitness class or working out with a friend or family member. 
  3. Finally, be patient! It takes time to see results from regular exercise, so keep going if you are still waiting to see changes. Just keep at it; soon enough, you'll be reaping all the heart-healthy benefits of regular physical activity!

No matter what type of activity you choose, moving is a great way to reduce your risk of developing heart disease. Regular exercise has countless benefits for your overall health, including heart health. So get up and get moving today! Your heart will thank you for it.

​​Respectfully yours,