Man and woman jogging for cardio exercise for heart health benefits

Best Exercises for Heart Health

You want your heart to be a lean, mean, blood pumping machine—the health of this essential organ directly connects to your overall lifelong health and wellness, after all. So how can you keep your ticker in tip-top shape, while also helping to promote blood flow, and already-healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels?

Well…they don’t call it “cardio” for nothing! The key to achieving optimal cardiovascular health is through regular exercise. This includes aerobic exercise, as you might assume, but strength training is important, too.

Exercise is not the only piece of the puzzle. You’ll also want to eat a heart-healthy diet, take the right cardiovascular supplements and consider certain lifestyle changes. Here is everything you need to know about keeping your heart healthy…at any age!

3 reasons why regular exercise is important for heart health

Senior man cycling as a form of exercise to promote blood flow to heart and body

Want to give your heart some love? One of the very best ways to take care of this vital organ is by incorporating physical activity into your wellness routine. Not convinced to put on your running shoes just yet?
Here are just a few ways that a little exercise goes a long way when it comes to supporting a healthy heart:

Supports already-healthy blood pressure levels:

With each beat, your heart pumps blood throughout your body to keep you healthy and moving throughout the day. When you perform cardiovascular exercises, you are helping to strengthen your heart muscles, which allows it to pump more blood with less effort and less strain on your arteries. In turn, this helps maintain your already-healthy blood pressure levels.

Promotes blood flow:

Cardiovascular exercise not only supports already-healthy blood pressure levels, but also promotes blood flow from your heart to other major parts of the body. Additionally, studies suggest that regular exercise can inhibit plaque buildup in arteries, which can promote blood flow throughout the body.

Healthy weight, healthy heart:

Exercise not only supports cardiovascular health, but also has overall positive impacts on your weight. Who wouldn’t want to look good and feel good at the same time? Regular exercise burns calories, which helps you keep that scale from creeping upwards. Achieving a healthy weight directly correlates with already-healthy HDL cholesterol levels, as well as maintaining already-healthy blood pressure, and triglycerides, supporting overall heart health.

How often should one exercise for heart health?

Woman looking at watch for time to go between moderate and vigorous intensity exercise

When it comes to physical activity that helps support heart health, you have options! For those with limited mobility, moderate intensity workouts are a great way to break a sweat and support a healthy heart muscle. Those more accustomed to working out can go the extra mile to support cardiovascular health with more intensity, coupled with regular resistance training.

Moderate intensity:

A heart-pumping, brisk walk is a great way to incorporate moderate aerobic activity into your exercise program. For optimal heart health, the CDC recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise each week or 30 minutes a day for five days a week. To further benefit your heart—and the rest of you—incorporate muscle-strengthening activities at least two days a week that target major muscle groups like the hips, back abs, chest, shoulders, and arms.

Vigorous intensity:

For those with a little more pep in their step, kick it up a notch with a jog or run and increase the intensity of your exercise. Couple your aerobic-friendly run or jog with at least two or more days of strength training that target major muscle groups. For optimal health benefits, the CDC recommends 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity weekly. One time-efficient approach is to try a high intensity interval training class (HIIT) to get the benefits of both strength training and cardio exercise in a 45–60-minute sweat sesh.

What is the type of exercise that will support your heart strength?

Woman doing push-ups for strength training for heart health benefits

Ready to break a sweat, but not sure where to begin or what to do? Aerobic exercise and resistance training go together like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. While aerobic and resistance exercises are good on their own, when combined into a workout routine, they are even better – the proof is in the… well, PB & J.

Aerobic exercise:

Engaging in regular aerobic exercise can help support circulation and already-healthy blood pressure levels. In the long run, it can even help promote your resting heart rate as well as the strength at which your heart can pump blood.

Aerobic exercises fall into two categories: low impact and high impact. Low impact exercises include swimming, cycling, walking, rowing and using an elliptical machine. On the other hand, high impact aerobic exercises include running, jogging, jumping rope,  and performing step aerobics. Whatever aerobic exercise you choose, make sure to pick one that best fits your mobility – and most of all, have fun doing it!

Resistance training:

The terms “strength training” and “resistance training” are one in the same, and equally as important for heart health as those cardio sessions. In fact, a clinical trial of 12,591 participants found that people who performed resistance exercises at least once a week independent of aerobic exercise, had optimal cardiovascular health.

Most commonly, resistance training is performed in a traditional gym with machines and free weights, but if you have gym-intimidation, you can perform resistance-based exercises from the comfort of home with weight bands, weighted bracelets or even your own body weight.

Three best exercises for heart health

Senior woman in swimming pool for a low impact full body workout

While it might seem like a trendy exercise studio is popping up on every corner every month, you can always count on three foundational exercises to help support your heart and promote overall blood flow throughout your body:

Swimming:

Looking for a great, low impact, full body workout that is not only fun, but easy on your joints? Then you’ll want to make a splash in the swimming pool. Swimming is a great aerobic exercise that helps support your heart by making it more efficient in pumping blood. Freestyle, backstroke, butterfly and breaststroke are all traditional movements you can perform in order to maintain your heart health. Not feeling like an Olympic gold medalist? That’s okay too. Simply grab a floatation tube or board and kick your way to cardiovascular fitness.

Cycling:

Remember that bike you bought during quarantine, but maybe only used a couple of times? Time to dust it off and incorporate it into your heart-healthy exercise regimen. Cycling is a great exercise when it comes to promoting your cardiovascular health. In fact, a meta-analysis of 21 studies including over 1 million individuals found that cycling was linked to significantly better heart health.

Yoga:

When you think of yoga, your mind might imagine a quiet, dark room with Gregorian chanting, singing bowls and essential oils – but in reality, yoga is a great way to help support cardiovascular health. Doing a little downward dog (along with other poses) will help strengthen and tone your muscles, while certain types of yoga can elevate your heart rate while still providing you with peace, relaxation and even helping maintain your already-healthy blood pressure. Namaste!

Is diet or exercise more important for heart health?

There are a lot of myths when it comes to heart health, but one thing is for certain—exercise and diet go hand in hand. In fact, the phrase, “You can’t out exercise a bad diet” is something to take into consideration when developing a heart-healthy plan. An easier way to find balance between the two is by adhering to the 80/20 rule. This rule simply means that 80% of your health goals should be focused on what you eat throughout the day, while 20% is attributed to the exercises that you perform.

With so much attention on what you eat, the million dollar question is, “What exactly can you eat?”  Diets can sometimes be tricky or complicated, but adhering to a Mediterranean diet takes out the guesswork and makes healthy eating simple. A Mediterranean diet puts emphasis on natural foods like fruits, vegetables, whole-grains, healthy fats and lean protein, while cutting out processed foods, sodium, saturated fats, artificial sugars and fried foods. Foods rich in magnesium are also beneficial when it comes to heart health, so make sure to incorporate pumpkin seeds, almonds, spinach, cashews or peanuts into your daily snacks and meals.

How do you support your heart health as you age?

Senior woman on stationary bike doing cardio for her heart

A heart healthy diet and exercise are the basic building blocks of heart health, but you may be wondering what else you should be doing between your meals and sweat sessions? Follow these tips for lifelong heart health:

DON’T: Drink alcohol in excess.

If you’re making weekend plans to go out on the town, you may want to think twice, especially if you are being mindful about your heart health. Drinking alcohol, particularly in excess, impacts your cardiovascular health by supporting heart rate and already-healthy blood pressure.

DO: Sleep well.

Getting between seven to nine hours of restful, uninterrupted sleep is key for overall health and wellbeing. Skimping on sleep can impact heart health. To support already-healthy blood pressure levels, blood sugar and promote a healthy inflammatory response, aim to get proper rest each and every night.

Make sure you set yourself up for sleep success by avoiding caffeinated drinks and alcohol before bed as well as engaging in aerobic exercises during the day vs. hours closest to bedtime. Most importantly, turn off and shut down all electronic devices at least an hour before bed. Doing so will inhibit mental stimulation and block out blue light that may deter you from falling asleep.

DO: Take heart health supplements.

Adding CoQ10 to your regimen is a great way to support your heart and other high-energy major organs. You can also take specialized formulas that maintain already-healthy cholesterol levels.

DON’T: Smoke.

Cigarettes and vaping products are packed with a laundry list of chemicals and ingredients you don’t want in your body; nonsmokers generally have healthier hearts than those who light up.

DON’T: Stress.

Stress is a normal part of life, but too much and how your body reacts can have an impact on your body. Your primary stress hormone, cortisol, controls how you react to stressful situations. High levels of cortisol over long periods of time can lead to more serious heart impacts down the line, so it is important to manage stress at the first sign.

Luckily, you can manage stress by incorporating healthy lifestyle changes like getting regular exercise, eating healthy, building a support network of friends and family as well as eliminating or avoiding stressful situations altogether.

References

By: Andrew Davis, Health & Wellness Writer

Andrew Davis is a graduate of Pace University NYC with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. He has more than a decade's worth of experience in content and social media in the health and wellness space. An avid traveler, Andrew also has volunteered as an English teacher and humanitarian in countries throughout Asia.

Scientifically Reviewed By: Michael A. Smith, MD