Dr. Cash Casey, a cardiac electrophysiologist with Elmhurst Hospital and Midwest Cardiovascular Institute shared in EEHealth’s Healthy Driven Blog that the potential to improve overall health with regular exercise is impressive — but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says only 23 percent of American adults meet the organization’s Physical Activity Guidelines.
For most adults, this means getting 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise like brisk walking, or 75 minutes of high-intensity exercise like running each week, in addition to two weekly sessions of strength training.
But what is the impact of regular exercise on the heart specifically? And how does all this effort translate to our overall health?
We know regular exercise strengthens muscles, but it also helps the heart do a better job of pumping blood throughout the body. Check out seven heart-healthy reasons why regular cardiovascular work belongs in your exercise plan:
- Lower blood pressure. A healthy heart pushes out more blood with each beat, enabling it to function more efficiently. This decreases stress on the heart and surrounding arteries, potentially reducing blood pressure. If you have high blood pressure, cardiovascular exercise may help lower it. If you don’t have high blood pressure, exercise may help prevent it from rising as you age.
- Improve blood flow. The regular cardio-based physical activity enables the heart to achieve improved blood flow in the small vessels around it, where blockages of fatty deposits can build over time. Better circulation in these areas may prevent heart attacks. Evidence even shows that exercise can cause the body to create more physical connections between these small blood vessels, meaning the blood has more ways to travel to where it needs to go.
- Improve workout efficiency. As you begin a new workout routine that includes cardio activity, it may take a while for your body to adjust to a faster pace. But the more routine exercise becomes, the quicker your body pulls needed oxygen from your blood during workouts. Because of this, people who work out regularly have hearts that perform better under stress and are less winded during exercise activities. Regular cardio also allows your body to recover more quickly after exercise.
- Lower cholesterol. Many studies show that exercise is linked to health improvements in cholesterol, such as increasing the amount of healthy HDL cholesterol and possibly lowering bad LDL cholesterol by as much as 10 percent.
- Decrease the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Studies show regular exercise helps reduce the risk of coronary heart disease by as much as 21 percent for men and 29 percent for women. Additionally, active people have a 20 percent less chance of stroke. Regular exercise also helps keep blood sugar levels in a healthy range and, in turn, helps lower the risk for prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.
- Promote other heart-healthy habits. According to the American Heart Association, regular exercise can help you maintain a healthy weight, make better nutrition choices, decrease stress and improve your mood.
- Reduce the incidence of heart arrhythmia, like atrial fibrillation (AFib). A common heart rhythm problem, AFib comes with a five-fold increased risk of stroke caused by a blood clot. Last year, in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers reported that a strategy of weight loss, diet, and exercise resulted in lower rates of AFib and less severe disease. The American Heart Association has reported study results that indicate that in patients who exercised regularly with a short-term, high-intensity interval training regimen, the incidence of AFib was cut in half.
Before you begin any new exercise plan, talk with your doctor about the best way to incorporate cardiovascular activity into your lifestyle. Not only can your doctor help establish a plan that safely and gradually increases your capacity for cardiovascular exercise, but he or she can also establish baselines for your blood pressure, resting heart rate and cholesterol that will allow you to track your success.