Hear the word muscle, and you probably picture a beefy fitness trainer showing off his “guns”. Most people don’t immediately picture their heart when the word muscle is uttered, and yet that is exactly what the heart is. Just like those sought-after biceps and abs, the heart is a muscle that always needs attention during your exercise routine.
The heart is always in motion from the time you are born, so you may not think it needs any more working out. However, it’s best to think of the heart’s natural movement as its “resting” period. For your heart, that motion is the same thing as vegging out in front of the television. So, yes, it does need regular exercise to keep it strong. But do you know why? Or how? Here are 16 facts you may not know about the relationship between your heart and exercise.
Both the number one and the number five killers in America (heart disease and stroke, respectively) can be significantly reduced with regular physical activity. Simply by maintaining a regimen of activity that increases your heart rate, you can avoid these two deadly conditions – both of which are incredibly difficult to prevent or treat medically.
You can avoid a lifetime of expensive prescription medication for high cholesterol and blood pressure simply by doing around 40 minutes of vigorous physical activity three or four times a week. Take a brisk walk after dinner, and save yourself a chunk out of your retirement fund.
Here’s a little-known secret: the type of activity doesn’t really matter. Lift weights, run, take a salsa class, choose the stairs over the elevator, or get more active in the bedroom – so long as your heart rate increases for a total of about 40 minutes three times a week, you’re in the clear.
Even if you can’t get in your full 40 minutes, anything is better than nothing. You certainly won’t hurt your heart by doing a few minutes of extra walking one day.
The reason that exercise works to strengthen your heart is that it helps the muscle to become more efficient at pumping blood. The better the muscle can perform its job, the less strain there is on the muscle as it performs that job. That means you have less chance of the muscle ever reaching a point where it just throws in the towel.
On the same note, do you know what it means for your heart to work more efficiently? It means that with each beat, your heart is pushing out more blood. This means that your heart can actually beat slower while still moving the same or more blood through your system. This lowers your blood pressure.
Exercise can also help reduce cholesterol and plaque build up. As more blood is pushed through your system, the veins and arteries are made more flexible. This means that build-up is less likely.
There is some evidence that physical exercise helps your body create more connections and branches between blood vessels, which reduces the chances of clots and stroke.
Exercise increased your HDL (good cholesterol) levels.
Exercise helps you sleep better at night, a fact that has been linked many times to better heart health overall.
If you aren’t sure if you’re doing the right kind of activity to get your heart rate up, try talking and singing during your exercise. You should be able to talk but not sing.
Even if you are extremely out of shape, most people (barring injuries or disabilities) are safe to do moderate exercises such as brisk walking. Additionally, the statistical chances of improving your heart health by exercise are far greater than the statistical chance of injuring your body by exercise.
If you have trouble getting a full 40 minutes of exercise three times a week, try breaking the time up into small chunks. Your body does not require all 40 minutes be performed at once. Four 10-minute sessions, or eight 5-minute sessions, of raised heart rate, work perfectly fine.
It is always a good idea to talk to your doctor about any new physical activity you are incorporating into your life. Not only to maintain good health records but also to get expert advice on how to get the most out of your exercise.
Exercise can also lower your risk of cancer, including cancers that attack the cardiovascular system.
Regular exercise helps your body utilize oxygen better, which in turn helps your heart work more efficiently. Not only are you strengthening your heart, but you are also strengthening its support systems.
Now that you know how the health of your heart and exercise are so closely intertwined, isn’t it time to start adding some exercise into your schedule?