Heart disease, which describes a range of heart conditions, is the leading cause of death in the US. When you visit the doctor, a nurse or CNA might check your blood pressure to determine your risk of health problems, such as heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. Unfortunately, you can’t always prevent heart disease, but there are some ways to reduce the risk of developing it. Research shows that exercise is crucial for preventing heart disease by improving heart health and reversing some potential risk factors. But how does exercise affect your heart? Let’s take a closer look.
Effect of Exercise on the Heart
Your heart is a muscle; like all muscles, it gets stronger with exercise. When you work out, your muscles circulate blood to take some pressure off the heart; ultimately, your heart doesn’t have to work as hard to pump blood throughout the body. However, exercise makes the heart contract, improving circulation, and the demand for blood increases, so the heart works harder by increasing your heart rate, which is why you might feel your heart thumping during exercise.
Long Term exercise can decrease your resting heart rate, which means your heart isn’t working as hard to pump blood throughout your body. Additionally, it allows you to breathe deeper breaths and burn calories, reducing your risk of heart disease by targeting several risk factors, including obesity and high cholesterol. So consider this: exercise can help you lose weight, lowering bad cholesterol while helping you sustain a healthy weight by burning calories and raising your heart rate for a short duration.
Of course, exercise isn’t the only method for weight loss; you’ll need to change your diet for long-term success. That said, it can ensure you maintain a healthy weight while also focusing on heart health by ensuring normal blood pressure and flow.
Aging & Exercise
As people age, they become less active. Unfortunately, seniors need more exercise instead of less because their metabolisms slow, making it easier for them to gain weight. In addition, physicians often tell adults with cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure to exercise more because of the risk of heart attack or stroke. Additionally, exercise prevents bone loss, increases muscle strength, and improves coordination and balance, all of which are crucial as we age.
Exercise can reduce the risk of fatal heart attacks for individuals with existing heart disease, and for individuals without heart disease, regular exercise can reduce the risk of developing it.
How Much Exercise Do You Need?
How much exercise you need depends on your age and physical health. However, it’s usually best to aim for light exercise for 30 minutes a day, five days a week or more. Of course, you should talk to your doctor before starting a new exercise program to ensure your chosen exercise and time spent exercising are safe for you based on your age and overall health.
Heart Benefits of Exercise
We’ve already discussed how exercise benefits the heart, but there are other considerations for how exercise can improve heart health and reduce the risk of heart disease. Here are a few heart health benefits of exercise:
Lowers Blood Pressure
High blood pressure can lead to several heart conditions because it means your heart works harder to pump blood throughout the rest of the body. Exercise effectively lowers blood pressure by slowing the heart rate because it strengthens the heart, allowing it to pump more blood more efficiently.
Additionally, exercise improves blood flow, allowing the heart to achieve improved flow in the small vessels surrounding it. Better circulation near the heart can prevent heart attacks, and exercise has been proven to create more connections between small blood vessels so the blood has more ways to travel throughout the body.
You already know that exercise can help you burn calories to lose or maintain your weight. However, your weight is a huge contributing factor to heart disease. Being overweight puts more stress on the heart, and individuals with obesity are more likely to suffer from heart disease or sudden cardiac death. When combined with a healthy diet, exercise can help you lose weight and keep it off, putting less strain on the heart.
Muscle strengthening is ideal for heart health because it improves the muscles’ ability to use the circulating blood by drawing oxygen from it. When your muscles work more efficiently, it reduces the need for the heart to work harder to pump more blood to the muscles.
Reduces Smoking Risk
Replacing an unhealthy habit with a healthy one can improve your heart and overall health. For example, active individuals are less likely to smoke because they want to stay fit. Since smoking is one of the top risk factors for heart disease and other health issues because it reduces blood vessel function, exercise can be a great way to quit smoking and serve as an alternative to unhealthy habits you might use to manage stress.
When you exercise, your brain releases endorphins that make you feel good, lasting all day long. Stress hormones burden the heart, while exercise can help you relax and ease stress. When you’re less stressed, your heart doesn’t have to pump as hard or fast to ensure it’s circulating blood to the rest of the body.
Reduces Heart Arrhythmia
Exercise can reduce heart arrhythmia, such as atrial fibrillation, a common heart problem that increases the risk of stroke caused by blood clots. Weight loss, diet, and exercise combined can lower the rates of atrial fibrillation, and patients who exercise regularly can cut their risk in half.
Improving Heart Health Through Exercise
Before investing in a new exercise plan, talk to your doctor to determine the best way to incorporate activity into your lifestyle based on your health and other personal circumstances. Your physician can help you develop an exercise plan to track your success and measure resting heart rate, blood pressure, and cholesterol.
Ashley Nielsen earned a B.S. degree in Business Administration Marketing at Point Loma Nazarene University. She is a freelance writer who loves to share knowledge about general business, marketing, lifestyle, wellness, and financial tips. During her free time, she enjoys being outside, staying active, reading a book, or diving deep into her favorite music.