How to Start a Heart-Healthy Exercise Routine
Without a doubt exercise is one of the best things you can do to keep your heart healthy. As long as you get your heart pumping, your health will benefit. But how much exercise do you need in a week and is there one activity that's better than others?
Condition your body, condition your heart
Your heart is the hardest working muscle in your body and the best way to keep it in shape is through aerobic exercise. Commonly referred to as ‘cardio’, aerobic exercise places a large demand on the body for oxygen. This requires your heart to pick up the beat and pump fresh, oxygenated blood throughout your body, especially to the larger muscle groups where it’s needed the most.1
As a result, increased circulation carries fresh nutrients to your muscles for energy, cellular growth, and repair. This helps all of your muscles, including your heart, stay in good condition, while keeping your blood vessels free and clear of fatty deposits and toxins.
The best form of aerobic or cardio exercise for your heart is anything that uses the large muscles in your legs. Walking, running, cycling, hiking, and swimming are all good exercises. The trick is to sustain that exercise over a constant amount of time for 10 minutes or more.
For substantial heart health benefits, the recommended weekly dose of aerobic activity includes:
- 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate intensity; or
- 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) vigorous intensity aerobic physical activity; or
- an equivalent combination of moderate and vigorous intensity aerobic activity.1
Let’s break this down. If your chosen aerobic exercise is walking at a moderate intensity, you can:
- Go to the gym and walk on the treadmill
- Head outside and walk around your neighbourhood
- Leave the car at home and walk to the store
- Take the stairs at work
Track your time and create a schedule you know you can stick to. For example:
- 20 minutes of walking a day; or
- 2 x 10 minute of walking a day; or
- 30 minutes of walking 5 x week.
Over time, regular exercise will increase your aerobic capacity, which means less stress on your heart. As your fitness level improves, your heart becomes more efficient and doesn’t have to work as hard to deliver fresh oxygen to your body.
Strengthen your muscles, strengthen your heart
Resistance training is the ideal companion to regular aerobic exercise. It involves working your muscles in sets of repeated exercises to build strength. For example, lifting free weights to tone your arms is considered resistance training.
The effect is to strengthen your muscles and condition your joints and bones so you can continue to perform your daily activities in good health and without injury.
Good examples of resistance training include:
- Muscle conditioning using weight machines
- Strengthening and toning with barbells and dumbbells
- Resistance bands, perfect for home workouts
- Bodyweight exercises: push-ups, squats, lunges, chin-ups, and pull-ups
Ideally, you want to include muscle strengthening activities that involve all major muscle groups on two or more days a week.2
Here’s an example of a typical workout using weight machines to exercise all major muscle groups:
- Back: lat pulldown, seated row
- Legs: leg press, hamstring curls, leg extension
- Chest: chest press, machine fly
- Arms: biceps & triceps curls
- Shoulders: shoulder press
- Abdomen: crunches
Perform 2-3 per week:
- 2 sets x 10 reps (repetitions) - first two weeks
- 3 sets x 10 reps - second two weeks
Don’t forget to stretch!
A good warm-up stretch before exercising will help your joints and muscles immensely. It takes longer for your joints to spring into action as you get older. Gentle stretching can stimulate synovial fluid and lubricate your joints to keep them supple and ready for action.
Here are a few warm-up exercises for you to try:
- Half squats with crossover arm stretches x 15
- Side-to-side lunges with side bends x 15 each side
- Arm circles: 30 seconds forward and 30 seconds backward
Similarly, stretching after exercise helps improve muscle recovery and repair, keeping stiffness and soreness at bay. Because your body is warmed up from the exercise, you can hold these stretches for longer and focus on individual muscles like your calves, quadriceps, and hamstrings for a really deep stretch.
Performing yoga a couple of times a week can also help reduce stress and relieve tension. Try some of these yoga poses for deep stretching and relaxation:
- Child’s pose
- Cat’s pose
- Downward dog
- Four-limbed staff pose
- Upward dog
- Bridge pose
- Butterfly pose
You can learn the proper technique for these poses by taking yoga classes or by following instructional videos that feature a qualified yoga teacher.
A well-rounded exercise program is recommended for substantial heart health benefits, including aerobic exercise, resistance training, and stretching. But any kind of regular exercise is better than none. For heart health, it’s important to focus on regular, consistent aerobic exercise. So get moving and get that heart pumping!
- Tags: Heart Health
- Blog Contributor