Exercise for Heart Health 

Written by: Superior Physical Therapy

The heart is a muscle, which can get stronger with an active lifestyle.  It is never too late to initiate these changes.  Even small changes can make a big difference, such as lowering your risk for heart disease.

Where to Begin?

Once you are cleared for exercise by your doctor, find an activity that interests you.  Something such as brisk walking can be an economical choice, in that it primarily requires a good pair of shoes and space to walk.  If you are more motivated in a group setting, a gym could be an option or joining a group.  In many regions, there are groups, such as a Moms Run This Town, which is a group of running moms supporting other moms in all stages of the running process.

Cardiovascular exercise is very important, but there are other areas of exercise that will also benefit your overall health. 
Stretching is beneficial in reducing your risk for injury and allows you to become more flexible.  Perform stretching after a light warm-up or following exercise.  Stretching should feel good, but should not hurt when performed properly.

Strength training uses resistance to produce a muscular contraction to build strength, endurance, and muscle size.  Strength training does not necessarily mean getting “bulky.”  Strength training can help you to build strong bones, manage your weight, and improve energy levels.

Strength Training

Strengthening can also help to manage symptoms of chronic conditions, such as arthritis.  When individuals develop arthritis pain, this can lead to a decline in activity, which can result in additional problems. Although exercise can be painful initially, this activity helps to bring additional blood flow to the cartilage in that joint.  Also, exercises helps to make the muscles surrounding the joints stronger.  The stronger the muscles are, the more weight they can handle, which reduces the stress on the joint.  This can eventually lead to reduced pain.

You can use free weights, resistance bands/ tubing, or your own body weight for strength training.  These exercises can include lunges, push-ups, or squats, none of which require any special equipment to perform.  Choose a weight where your muscles begin to fatigue after ~15 repetitions.  If you are able to perform 30 repetitions easily, it is time to increase the amount of resistance used.  Allow at least one day in between strengthening routines. 

How Much Exercise?

The American Heart Association recommends “at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity at least 5 days per week” and “moderate- to high-intensity muscle-strengthening activity at least 2 days per week” for overall cardiovascular health.  Start where you are able and work up to this guideline.