BTW, exercise can also help if you’ve already been diagnosed with heart disease.
When heart-healthy habits come up, you might first think about changes to your diet, like reducing sodium and saturated fat. Those are very important, but one lifestyle change for heart health that often gets missed is exercise. There are several benefits of exercise that can help your entire body, including your cardiovascular system.
Benefits of Exercise for Heart Health
There are a couple key ways that exercise can improve your heart health directly and indirectly. These include:
- Weight loss: A higher body mass index may strain the heart, and exercise may help lose or maintain weight.
- Preventing diabetes: Exercise improves your insulin sensitivity, which may help with blood sugar levels. That’s important since chronic levels of high blood sugar may damage blood vessel walls over time.
- Lowering blood pressure: High blood pressure (hypertension) is a major risk factor for heart disease. Exercise has been shown to help lower blood pressure.
- Lowering stress: Exercise may help improve mood, lower stress, and improve mental health overall. This is important because high stress levels may lead to unhealthy habits that may affect your heart health.
How Much Physical Activity Do You Need?
First of all, any amount of daily physical activity is beneficial. If you are a “beginner” when it comes to exercise, brisk daily walks are a great place to start. Then, you can start working your way up to more challenging activities.
Ideally, experts recommend the following guidelines for physical activity:
- 150 minutes of moderate activity a week
- or 75 minutes of vigorous activity a week
You don’t have to do 150 minutes of exercise all at once. Spread your exercise out, such as about 50 minutes of exercise three times a week.
What Type of Exercise Is Best?
You might occasionally see news stories or websites that promote specific types of workouts. The truth is, it’s not helpful to force yourself to do exercises that you don’t like or can’t stick to. Any exercise is generally better than no exercise at all. In other words, the best exercise for your heart health is the one that you can stick to and enjoy doing.
In general, find ways to get a variety of cardio, strength training, and stretching. All of these have unique benefits to your heart health (and overall health). Remember, cardio doesn’t have to be running. It could mean cycling, swimming, or dancing (to name a few). Even certain types of yoga can help get your heart rate up.
David Anstey, MD, is a cardiologist at Columbia University Irving Medical Center.
- Blood sugar and exercise. Arlington, VA; American Diabetes Association. (Accessed on July 30, 2021)
- Getting active to control high blood pressure. Dallas, TX: American Heart Association, 2016. (Accessed on July 30, 2021)
- Overview of primary prevention of cardiovascular disease. Waltham, MA: UpToDate, 2021. (Accessed on July 30, 2021)
- Physical activity for a healthy weight. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020. (Accessed on July 30, 2021)