It’s no secret that good heart health is the key to leading a long and happy life. Of course, the best way to achieve good heart health is to have a balanced lifestyle that incorporates regular exercise. Unfortunately, over half of Australian adults don’t meet physical activity guidelines. That’s bad news for the heart health of more than 13 million of the population.
With our busy, often sedentary lives, it can be a challenge to establish heart-healthy habits. You’ve told yourself, “I’ll start on Monday”, a hundred times before. But there’s no use waiting for New Year’s resolutions or the “right time” because your heart health can’t wait.
The relationship between exercise and heart health
Lowers blood pressure
Regular exercise is one of the most effective ways to lower blood pressure and improve heart health naturally. The science behind it is simple: exercise strengthens the heart like any other muscle. In turn, a stronger heart pumps more blood with less effort. As a result, this reduces the stress placed on the heart and surrounding arteries, potentially lowering blood pressure.
We all know that exercise strengthens muscles. But you might not be aware that stronger muscles throughout the body can greatly improve heart health.
This comes down to a couple of key factors:
- Stronger muscles reduce the effort the heart must exert to pump blood and oxygen throughout the body. This means that the heart doesn’t have to work as hard during physical exertion, which reduces the strain on the cardiovascular system.
- Sustained exercise, like endurance training, leads to adaptations in the muscles and cardiovascular system that improve the efficiency of muscle oxygen use, which can lead to improved heart health.
High cholesterol levels, particularly LDL or “bad” cholesterol, can increase the risk of heart disease by causing the formation of plaque in the arteries.These deposits make it difficult for the heart to pump blood adequately to the arteries, forcing it to work much harder.
Exercise can increase the production of HDL or “good” cholesterol, which helps to remove LDL from the bloodstream. It can also increase the activity of an enzyme called lipoprotein lipase, which breaks down LDL cholesterol in the bloodstream.
The benefits of exercise for heart health
Exercise has so many benefits for the heart, you’d run out of fingers trying to count them all. Here are a few big-ticket benefits that come from exercising for a healthy heart:
- Decreased risk of stroke and heart attack. Healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels arising from exercise both reduce the risk of stroke. Likewise, exercise can also reduce the likelihood of blood clot formation, which would otherwise cause a heart attack or stroke
- Decreased risk of heart disease. In a similar vein, healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels, as well as a strong cardiovascular system, can greatly reduce the risk of heart disease. Exercise can also help improve insulin sensitivity, allowing the body to use insulin more effectively to regulate blood sugar levels and consequently reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, a major risk factor for heart disease.
- Fact: In 2022, coronary heart disease was one of the leading underlying causes of death in Aussies.
- Lowered incidence of heart arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat). Exercise can improve the balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, which can help to regulate heart rate and reduce the risk of heart arrhythmia. Additionally, exercise can reduce other risk factors for arrhythmia like stress and anxiety.
Types of exercise for heart health
It’s important to fit the recommended amount of physical activity into your day, per Heart Foundation guidelines:
- If you’re aged 18 to 64 years, you should try to be physically active five or more days per week, with a mixture of moderate-intensity activity and vigorous exercise.
- If you’re aged 65+ years, you should try to accumulate at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on most days of the week.
It can be a challenge to meet these minimums without a plan of attack, but luckily even a small amount of exercise can make a huge difference. If exercise is new to you, try starting small. This could look like walking or cycling instead of driving, or taking the stairs instead of the escalator.
If you’re ready for something more intense, it’s best to incorporate a mixture of aerobic and strength training into your routine. For example:
- Aerobic exercises like running, cycling and swimming.
- Resistance training like weight lifting, pilates and yoga.
For many people, incorporating exercise into a weekly routine can feel like a chore. To stay motivated, try working out with friends and family, or join a local community group. Switching up your routine can also be helpful; recreational activities like rowing or rock climbing are good fun and great exercise.
Putting it all together
If you’re concerned about your heart health, it’s best to speak with a doctor or exercise physiologist trained in safe exercise for those with cardiac conditions. Remember, the most important thing is simply to get started. It’s never too late to put your heart health first.
Throughout May, we’ll be posting content related to cardiovascular health to empower you to make healthier choices for your heart. Keep an eye out!
Contact us today for more information on how we can work together and help you to achieve your exercise and heart health goals this year!