There is nobody alive who will not instantly agree that exercise, combined with a healthy diet, is good for the human body. Even children know this, and the very obvious answer people give as to the importance of exercising is that it helps us burn off calories and thus helps us to lose weight or to maintain a healthy weight. Exercise is universally regarded as one of the best ways to burn calories.
But did you know that there are tremendous cardiovascular benefits to exercising? Did you know that daily and regular exercising is good for the health of your heart? Did you know that your heart will thank you in later years by staying strong and healthy when you exercise?
Exercise can be said to be any planned physical activity that works your muscles and requires you to dispense more energy than you would while resting. Walking, dancing, running, doing yoga, swimming, and gardening are but a few examples of physical activity.
Benefits of daily exercise include an improved cardiovascular health, a lower blood pressure, and healthier cholesterol levels. Exercising also encourages your heart’s arteries to dilate more readily. These, in a nutshell, are the benefits your heart derives from exercising regularly.
So here are four reasons you should consider starting a regular exercise regime, if you don’t already have one.
- It lowers your blood pressure: We all know that high blood pressure often leads to heart disease and is in fact, a major risk factor for later developing debilitating heart diseases. What exercise does for your heart is to function like a beta-blocker medication which slows your heart rate and lowers the blood pressure. And the good news continues; This doesn’t just happen when you are exercising. Even after you are done exercising and are resting, the beta-blocker is still at work.
- It reduces the stress on your heart: Let’s face it. Being overweight puts unnecessary strain on the heart, causing it to work harder than it should and puts you at risk for coronary heart disease as well as stroke. Because exercise helps you lose weight or at least maintain a healthy weight, it inadvertently helps you to optimize your heart health because it is not working any harder than it should.
- It strengthens your muscles, including your heart: Exercising helps our muscles draw oxygen better and more effectively from the blood that circulates through our body. The heart, which is itself a muscular organ, benefits tremendously from this because it does not have to work hard to pump more blood to the muscles. Its ability to pump blood to your lungs throughout your body improves, and as a result, there is better blood flow to your muscles, causing the oxygen levels in your blood to rise. Your capillaries also widen as a result of exercising, and they are able to deliver more oxygen throughout your body and are better equipped to carry away waste products. This means that your heart works more effectively and much smarter, not just harder.
- It reduces coronary heart disease risk factors: Exercising, when done regularly lowers your risk for coronary heart disease, a condition in which a waxy substance called plaque builds up inside the coronary arteries, narrowing them in the process and reducing blood flow to the heart. This comes with the risk of an area of plaque rupturing, causing a blood clot to form on the surface of the plaque. Should this clot be large enough, it can partially or totally block blood flow through an artery, resulting in a heart attack. Regular exercising helps to lower this risk significantly. It may also reduce the risk of getting a second heart attack in people who already had one before.
So how do you exercise to benefit your heart?
Now that you are familiar with the wonderful things your heart stands to gain from exercising, what exactly are the kind of exercises you should focus on. The four main types of exercise are aerobic, muscle-strengthening, bone-strengthening, and stretching, but aerobic exercise is the type that benefits your heart the most.
Aerobic exercises, also sometimes called endurance activities, are planned activities that make you move your large muscles like the ones in your arms and legs. Examples of aerobic exercises are walking, running, swimming, dancing, bicycling, and doing jumping jacks. Other examples are tennis, soccer, hockey, basketball, hiking, jogging, skateboarding, rollerblading, and jumping rope
Why aerobic activity is good for the heart is that it makes your heart beat faster than usual, and makes you breathe harder. Over time, daily aerobic exercise makes your heart stronger and enables it to work better.
How much time should you spend exercising?
To maximize the heart health benefit of exercising, you should aim for 30 minutes of exercise per day. If you are unable to do all thirty minutes at once, you may want to break it up into three 10-minute sessions.
If you haven’t been physically active before and find it overwhelming to start, you can begin with small steps such as these:
Wake up just a little bit earlier and exercise before doing anything else.
Use the stairs instead of using the elevator.
Walk to your lunch instead of sitting and eating at your desk.
Park your vehicle at the extreme end of a parking lot, so that you have a farther distance to walk to the entrance.
Wear a fitness tracker to count your steps, and aim to increase your daily steps each week with a final goal in mind. Doctors recommend 10,000 steps per day, and say that it is a level that can produce many health benefits.
Try to quit smoking, if you do.
A word of caution
While exercising helps you improve your heart health, it is always good to get clearance from your physician before starting if you are not accustomed to getting any exercise.
It is said that for each hour of regular exercise you get, you will gain about two hours of additional life expectancy. This holds true whether you start exercising as a young person or if you start when you hit middle age. The benefits of exercise are limitless. This is enough good news to get you started.
Now get started. Your heart will thank you.