It’s a well proven fact that cardiovascular exercise is the key to improving the health of your heart. Many types of exercise will get your heart pumping and provide great heart boosting benefits. Here are five of the top exercises for the heart, plus a bonus.
Cycling uses large muscle groups in the legs to elevate your heart rate. Besides getting strong, shapely legs, cycling burns calories and improves your cardiovascular fitness. But another big benefit if you’re cycling outside is that being in nature and sunshine can have the effect of reducing the “stress hormone” cortisol. According to a large study done by the British Medical Association, regular cycling can also substantially reduce your risk for coronary heart disease. The findings revealed that cycling 32 kilometers (~20 miles) a week reduced the potential to develop heart disease by a whopping 50 percent. So hop on your bike and get peddling.
2. Circuit training
Boot Camps and Circuit Training have become very popular, for good reason. Also known as High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), it’s one of the best types of exercise to increase your cardio vascular fitness. HIIT involves fast continuous exercises for short durations (30 seconds to 2 minutes) with a brief rest and recovery period in between. Some common exercises that quickly get the heart pumping are high knee marches, jumping jacks, jump roping, in-out tire runs, stair climbing, short sprints and burpees. Working at high intensity causes a rapid increase in your heart rate. As your heart pumps harder the blood stretches the walls of your arteries, making them more elastic and over time improving your cardiovascular fitness. But to do this exercise safely you need to be reasonably fit to begin with. Interval training comes with some risks and is not recommended if you are in any way unfit or have underlying health problems. Pushing your heart rate up and down quickly can be hazardous to those who are out of shape.
Swimming provides all-around fitness results, improving cardio, flexibility, tone and strength while exercising a variety of muscle groups. In fact swimming engages your entire body, especially your core. Swimming is also a safe and beneficial exercise for injury recover or those with arthritis. But for maximum fitness benefit you need to go the distance with swimming. Lane or lap swimming will give you the best bang out of your exercise time in the water. Work up to 8 to 12 lengths of the pool per swim technique, such as front crawl, freestyle, backstroke or breaststroke. Take a break by using a kickboard for legs only work out. Each time in the water focus on different techniques. Unlike land exercise there’s no stress or impact to your joints which is another benefit. Dive in and make a splash, you’ll feel refreshed when you emerge!
The appeal of running is easy to understand –no gym or equipment required, just you and your running shoes. It can be done anywhere and there’s that elusive runners high. A regular steady run is a great way to keep both you and your heart in shape, but running intervals will push your cardiovascular fitness to the next level. In the midst of your run increase the intensity by doing a sprint, climbing a flight of stairs or running up a hill. You only need 10 seconds of intensity to spike your heart rate. Then resume a slower running pace until your breath and heart rate slow down. Try 4, 10 second intervals per run and add more over time. If you’re new to running start out by walking 10 minutes, then run for 1 minute. Start at 20 minutes and each week increase your mileage and running time by 10 percent or more. This slow build will get you to your first 5K in just a few months!
We know yoga is great for strengthening, toning and flexibility. While we might not think of yoga as a top heart healthy exercise, yoga’s positive effects on many aspects of health have been well documented through research studies. Dr. Timothy McCall MD, author of ‘Yoga as Medicine’, states that even yogic exercises that don’t bring the heart rate into the aerobic range in intensity, can improve cardiovascular conditioning. Studies have found that yoga practice improves aerobic conditioning by lowering the resting heart rate and increasing endurance as well as the maximum uptake of oxygen during exercise. Yoga also lowers levels of the stress hormone cortisol. There are plenty of styles of yoga to suit your preferences. If you’re looking for an aerobic workout, the more vigorous styles of Ashtanga, Vinyasa Flow and Bikram can give you just that. So unroll your mat and connect your breath with your movements -you’ll be amazed at the mind body benefits of yoga.
Besides heart healthy exercises your lifestyle needs to include love. Love can actually help prevent heart disease. Cardiovascular research shows that experiencing feelings of love, appreciation, and gratitude have immediate and long-term effects on how your heart functions. These effects counteract the damaging effects of stress and negative emotion on your heart and blood vessels. Besides pumping vital blood throughout your body, the heart also responds to emotion. Your heart rate and blood pressure increase, among other physiological reactions when you’re angry or anxious.
On the other hand, feelings of love, gratitude, and appreciation help to slow heart rate, normalize heart rhythms, lower blood pressure, and reduce inflammation. You can help keep your heart healthy through emotional closeness and affectionate physical contact such as holding hands, giving and receiving hugs and massage, and even stroking your dog or cat. Reach out to friends and family and let them know you care about and appreciate them. Spread love and kindness and your heart will reward you.