Written by Daniela DeFeo, www.deevitawellness.com
Whether you’re repping it out at the squat rack, hiking in the woods, or stretching in downward dog position, you’re likely contemplating the many ways your fitness regime benefits you. Namely, stress reduction, a happier mindset, and a stronger bod. But you may not give much thought to the most important muscle you’re working: Your heart.
Science has found that it’s not just your regular run-of-the-mill treadmill sessions that contribute to heart health, and many other activities you participate in can keep your heart happy in other ways, increasing your overall longevity. Here, we’ll dissect the top three exercise types to keep your heart in prime condition without skipping a beat.
1. Aerobic Exercise
Considered the top activity for heart health, aerobic exercise is an essential component in supporting the heart to do its job effectively. Aerobic exercise, defined as exercise that gets your heart rate up but doesn’t leave you completely pooched, prompts an increase in blood flow and oxygen as pulse rate elevates, simultaneously activating the production of nitric oxide, the body's natural vasodilator.
Nitric oxide circulates within the arterial passageways, signaling blood vessels to relax and expand, in turn widening arteries, improving blood circulation, and taking strain off your heart. Regular cardiovascular workouts can lower your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, eliminate waste components, and regulate blood sugar.
Action Plan: Amp up your heart rate with circuit training, running, cycling, or low-impact activities like swimming and walking to reduce inflammation and strengthen your heart muscle.
2. Weight Training
Strength training benefits so much more than just your physique. Lean muscle mass assists the cardiovascular system in delivering blood to the heart and organs, supplies oxygen to working muscles, and removes waste by-products, and as a result, less pressure is applied on the arteries, reducing the chances of heart-related problems.
The body has to work hard to sustain the muscles you’ve built, and this leads to boosted metabolism. According to some studies, one pound of muscle may burn up to 50 calories a day—and that’s just at rest.
So, what does this mean for heart health? Muscle aids in reducing fat that can hinder your health. For example, visceral fat, or belly fat, is stored around your internal organs, notably the heart—so the less harmful fat you have, the lower your risk of cardiovascular events becomes.
Action Plan: Get pumped up with free weights, machines, resistance bands, and bodyweight exercises. Incorporate compound exercises that use multiple muscle groups to increase cardio conditioning and core exercises to burn harmful fat.
Loosening up your muscles and joints can improve heart performance. Although it may be easy to overlook, stretching can have a direct impact on heart health as it reduces stiffness and thickening of arteries. An increase in flexibility relaxes the muscles and joints and relieves tension, enhancing blood flow to supply nutrients throughout the body.
Mind-body practices such as yoga can help combat the body’s stress response by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system, or the “rest and digest” response. This inhibits it from going into overdrive, restoring balance which may reduce mental strain and cortisol levels. Additionally, static and dynamic stretching are heart healthy exercises that should be included in your fitness program and daily routine. Lengthening strained muscles and tendons helps to expand arteries and keeps them pliable, reducing blood pressure and inflammation.
Action Plan: If your body is tight on the outside, it will be tight on the inside. Stretch your limbs with mind-body exercises and dynamic and static stretching. Dynamic stretches are performed in motion (e.g. walking lunges), while static stretches are held in position for 10-30 seconds (e.g. shoulder stretch).