The Best Exercises To Strengthen Your Heart
It makes sense to stay physically active for several reasons, from elevated mood and reduced stress to being part of a community and feeling your best. But there’s another big reason: heart health. Heart disease, next to cancer, is the second leading cause of death in Canada. Your heart is the most important muscle in the body and requires exercise to reduce your risk of a heart attack or stroke. We are running through the best activities to strengthen your heart, so let’s get pumping.
Heart-strengthening activities fall into three categories: aerobics, strength training, and flexibility.
Aerobic activity, often called cardio or endurance exercises, is a continuous movement that benefits the heart, lungs, and circulatory system. It increases your heart rate, breathing rate, and the body’s use of oxygen, and it makes you sweat. Aim to get 20-30 minutes of aerobic activity per day. Any exercise is better than being sedentary, so make a conscious effort to fit it into your day. If cardio isn’t your favourite or it has been a while since you exercised, start gradually (10 minutes per day) and increase your time and intensity as you become more comfortable.
Some of our favourite endurance exercises are:
- Walking – Try walking meetings at work, getting off the bus one stop earlier, or parking further from the door to add more walking into your daily routine.
- Cycling – Go for a ride either outdoors or indoors on your spinning bike.
- Tennis – It’s time to dust off the old racket and gather friends for a game.
- Cross-country skiing – A fun way to stay warm in winter, usually done in a very peaceful setting; a bonus for stress reduction.
- Hiking – Enjoy a long hike on the weekend with friends and family.
- Dancing – Shake it, baby. Those moves are a great workout.
- Jogging – You don’t have to wait until spring; just watch your footing.
- Playing soccer – A fun sport that is all about running and skill improvement.
- Aerobics class – Find a video of a 20-minute workout you can do in your apartment, and the time will fly!
*Pro-tip – During your aerobic exercise session, increase to a high intensity for only 6 minutes, as a recent study has shown that to have a positive impact on brain health!
Strength activities use resistance to improve posture, strengthen muscles and bones, and increase endurance. Building lean muscle helps reduce visceral fat, the kind found around your internal organs. As we age, strength training becomes even more essential to help maintain muscle mass and a strong musculoskeletal system.
There is such a wide variety of resistance training exercises. Here are a few of our favourites:
- Heavy yard work – Spend all day outside, enjoy a sense of accomplishment and have a great workout.
- Squats – Use your body or add additional weights. The squat movement is one of the purest tests of strength.
- Lunges – This powerful movement helps to shape almost every muscle in the lower body, including hips, glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves.
- Push-ups – Being able to move and lift your body weight is an excellent test of physical fitness. Go from your knees or toes, or use the wall to build strength before moving to the floor.
- Kettlebell exercises – Use these weights for many types of movements to build muscle, agility, and balance.
- Pulling movements – Pull strength is a reliable method to measure holding power and improve grip strength. Incorporate seated or standing rows, pull-ups, or dumbbell rows to your fitness regime.
Flexible activities increase your range of motion and keep muscles relaxed and joints mobile. Regular stretching and flexibility training also helps improve blood flow and lowers blood pressure. Actions that will increase flexibility include:
- Yoga: This ancient practice focuses on physical poses, concentration, and deep breathing. It’s also great for stress reduction, which aids the heart. Yoga classes vary in style, so find one that suits your skill and energy level.
- Pilates – A workout with low-impact exercises that improve posture alignment, emphasizing core strength.
- Golfing – The swinging motion and rotation required for golf are good for flexibility, and walking is an added benefit.
- Tai Chi – A series of gentle, flowing postures and stretches that promote mind-body connection.
- Stretching and mobilizing – Adapting a regular stretching routine will help immensely with flexibility and recovery. Foam rolling is a very beneficial recovery tool.
Whether it’s aerobics, strength training, or stretching, all will help improve circulation so your body can receive the oxygen and nutrients it needs. Physical activity also improves sleep, enhances the quality of life and reduces stress, which is beneficial for your heart. Taking 30 minutes each day to move your body will strengthen your heart and benefit you for many years to come.