The heart is a muscle, and like every other muscle it gets stronger the more you use it.
Because it’s deep within your chest, you can’t work it the same way you do an arm or a leg. Still, nearly every move you make is going to need your heart’s help as it pushes and pulls blood and oxygen throughout your circulatory system.
It’s mutual aid. Your heart fuels the rest of your body and in turn the rest of your body helps your heart stay robust through physical activity, pumping your heart so it gets stronger while helping it circulate life-giving oxygen and nutrients throughout your body.
There are three main categories of intentional movement or exercise, each of which has a distinct role to play in fortifying our heart health. Working our way from the outside toward the heart of the matter, they are:
Stretching and balance activities provide a solid muscular and skeletal base so you can engage in exercise, along with any other kind of movements we make on a daily basis, without straining our muscles and joints or being injured. You should stretch your muscles before and after undertaking exercise and find opportunities to do more of it, such as yoga classes.
Working your muscles not only strengthens them individually but also makes your heart’s work much easier by adding lean muscle mass and reducing fat throughout the rest of your body. Burning fat, which results from nearly any kind of exercise plus eating at a caloric deficit, can reduce your blood pressure, cholesterol levels and other readings inextricably linked to better heart health.
As many of us know, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and many health experts recommend that people put strength training into their schedule at least twice per week, on nonconsecutive days to allow for recovery.
Any sustained activities that keep your heart pumping and your lungs working are most directly responsible for keeping it healthy. Aerobic exercise makes sure your heart muscles are frequently used and remain strong and capable of efficiently oxygenating and fueling the rest of your body.
The most frequently recommended amount of aerobic exercise per individual every week is 150 minutes of moderate exercise such as jogging, hiking, dancing, water aerobics or cycling on relatively flat terrain. The alternative is 75 minutes of vigorous exercise, which includes running, cycling 10 mph or faster, most aerobics classes, jumping rope or some combination of the two types of activities, which has the same total result.
HOW TO START
Check with your health care provider — If you have any chronic illnesses or have been living a sedentary life, ask them what type of exercise you can undertake without dangerously straining your heart or lungs.
Experiment — Once you have an idea of your limits, get an idea of what activities you enjoy. You can sign up for any number of aerobics, resistance training or stretching classes, join recreational sports leagues or try various YouTube workouts at home.
Accountability — Find someone to work out with or who will hold you responsible for carrying out your plans to work out.