Lifespan Cardiovascular Institute

Heart Health and Exercise

There are several factors that are vital to maintaining your heart health. One of the most important is exercise. Regardless of your age, weight, or health history, regular exercise can not only improve the function of your cardiovascular system, it can also reduce risk factors related to cardiac diseases.

While you’ve likely heard that exercise is good for your heart, it’s important to understand why exercise is so beneficial so you can make the best choices for your health.

What effect does exercise have on your heart health?

Just like exercise helps strengthen other muscles in your body, it helps your heart become stronger, more efficient, and better at pumping blood through your body.

Regular moderate to vigorous physical activity allows more blood to flow to your muscles and oxygen levels in your blood to rise. Your blood vessels also deliver more oxygen to your body and carry away waste products more efficiently.

When your heart becomes more efficient, it can push out more blood with each beat, allowing it to beat slower and keep your blood pressure at a healthy level.

Exercise can reduce your risk for coronary heart disease, a condition in which plaque builds up in your arteries, narrowing them and reducing blood flow to your heart. This can cause a blood clot to form, block blood flow to the heart, and cause a heart attack.

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Some of the other positive effects exercise can have on your heart health include:

  • Lowering blood pressure and triglycerides, a type of fat in the blood
  • Raising levels of HDL cholesterol, the "good" cholesterol that lowers heart disease risk and lowering levels of LDL or "bad" cholesterol out of your system
  • Helping your body manage blood sugar and insulin levels, which lowers your risk for type 2 diabetes
  • Reducing the risk of a second heart attack in people who have previously had a heart attack
  • Helping to maintain a healthy weight
  • Reducing stress and anxiety

How much exercise should I do?

The American Heart Association recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity five days a week for a total of 150 minutes, or at least 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity three days a week for a total of 75 minutes. This should be done in addition to muscle-strengthening activities two days a week. However, it’s important to remember that any physical activity is better than none. If you are just beginning to exercise, start with 10 to 15 minutes at a time and gradually build up to longer stretches. Find physical activities that you enjoy and make them part of your daily routine. Making small changes like taking the stairs instead of the elevator or going for a short walk can improve your heart health and help you work up to more vigorous exercise.

What types of exercises are best for heart health?

Some examples of aerobic exercises that are good for your heart include:

  • Walking
  • Jogging or running
  • Swimming
  • Cycling
  • Jumping rope
  • Climbing stairs
  • Playing sports, such as tennis, soccer, or basketball
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Some examples of muscle-strengthening exercises to do in addition to aerobic exercises include:

  • Lifting weights
  • Working with resistance bands
  • Bodyweight exercises, such as sit-ups and pushups
  • Yoga

Exercising is an important part of a heart healthy lifestyle. Any type of exercise you choose will have some effect that is beneficial to your heart. You should have a balanced approach when it comes to exercise, as they all work together to help your body and heart become more fit.

Make physical activity a part of your daily routine, keep track of your progress, be consistent and stay active, and talk with your doctor to make sure you are exercising safely and effectively for your individual health needs.

Are you at risk for heart disease? Take our quiz