Heart disease is the number one and stroke is number five leading cause of death in the United States, according to the CDC. In many cases, by the time surgery or medication can be of any help, irreversible damage has already been done. This is why more people are focusing on what they can do before disease develops to protect their heart health. In addition to eating right and limiting harmful habits like tobacco and alcohol consumption, exercise is an important way to protect your heart health. These 11 exercises are perfect for improving cardiovascular function and strengthening your immune system:
Walking shows up as the top exercise for heart health again and again, for good reason. Walking is a simple aerobic exercise that improves overall cardiovascular health, lowers blood pressure, and lowers cholesterol. Walking is easy to do alone or with a friend, and you need no fancy equipment or subscriptions to get started. Just open your door and pick any direction.
The large muscles in your legs move a large portion of the blood in your body, and working those muscles in exaggerated pumping motions, such as you do when biking, helps improve your heart function. You can do this on the road, or use a stationary bike, like Peloton, in bad weather.
Another aerobic exercise that helps to strengthen the cardiovascular system, swimming is one of the best choices for people of all ages. It’s a low-impact exercise that doesn’t put any pressure on the joints, doesn’t require that you be under a specific weight to be supported by a bike or machine, and can be easily performed by those with arthritis. For even more heart-healthy benefits, try water aerobics.
Want to exercise without really exercising? Grab a partner and find a dance floor. No matter what type of dancing you do, from salsa to line dancing to a Zumba class, dancing is an excellent way to get your heart pumping, improving your cardiovascular health. Find a low-impact style of dancing to protect your joints, or dance by yourself to your favorite tunes where no one can see if you’re a little shy.
5. Take the Stairs
Stair climbing is an excellent aerobic activity that can be easily incorporated into your every day. Just like walking, you don’t need any special equipment – just a tall building with a safe stairwell. Use an exercise block for step-up aerobics, or use the elliptical for similar effects. This exercise helps to raise the heart rate, which improves the strength of your cardiovascular system.
6. Interval Training
If you are a little more advanced in the fitness department, check out high-intensity interval training, also called HIIT. This type of workout involves short bursts of intense activity, followed by a period of what is called active recovery. For example, a brisk walk for a few minutes followed by sprinting for one minute, followed by another period of brisk walking, could count as one HIIT circuit. This type of exercise continuously raises and lowers your heart rate, which is excellent training for your vascular system.
Rowing is a full-body sport that doesn’t involve any impact, meaning your risk of injury is lower. But by choosing a total-body activity, you make your cardiovascular system work even harder to get blood to all the muscles in motion. More work on the heart means a stronger heart overall. Other total-body, no-impact sports include hiking and skiing.
So far, we’ve mostly discussed activities that help get your blood pumping to help strengthen your heart in the future. However, lowering your heart rate is also beneficial for heart disease. Stress has been linked to heart disease in dozens of studies, and yoga is a fantastic way to give your heart a much-needed vacation. Similar activities like tai chi are also perfect for making your blood vessels more elastic, which helps lower blood pressure.
9. Weight Training
For the purposes of improving your heart health, weight training could be thought of as a type of interval training. Your heart rate rises as you strain to lift the weights, and then falls again as you relax. By making your muscles stronger, you can actually ease the burden on your heart muscle, keeping it healthier.
10. Jumping Rope
Jump rope is a great moderate activity for those who are a little beyond beginner, but not quite advanced. It’s easy to incorporate more challenge by speeding up or to slow down when you need an easier workout. Jump rope provides a similar aerobic workout to swimming and bike riding.
11. Active Lifestyle
In many cases, the best exercise for heart health is to simply lead an active lifestyle. Move around during your day, leave your desk frequently, and get outside as often as you can. Tools like pedometers can help you track your activity if you want to improve in this area.