February is Heart Health Month!

Heart Health Month — Workouts That are Good for Your Heart

February marks Black History Month as well as American Heart Month. Since heart disease is one of the leading causes of death for both women and men in the U.S., improving heart health is of utmost importance. During American Heart Month, Americans are urged to focus on heart wellness and ways to improve cardiovascular health.

Thankfully, heart health can be maintained and improved in a variety of ways. Specifically, the main methods of protecting your heart include managing stress and weight, eating a heart-healthy diet, and getting regular blood pressure and cholesterol checks. However, one of the best means to improve and maintain heart health is through regular physical activity and exercise.

When it comes to physical activity (exercise in particular) there are many benefits. For example, exercise plays a huge role in maintaining good heart health by being the most effective tool for strengthening muscles in the heart. Even small amounts of it decrease weight, stress, and heart disease risk factors and improve overall physical fitness. Not only is exercise one of the best ways of keeping weight under control, working out helps prevent heart disease, heart attacks, and strokes by fending off artery damage from high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar.

Which Types of Exercise Work Best?
The two categories of exercises that most improve cardiovascular health and directly contribute to a healthy heart are aerobic exercise and resistance training (strength workouts). Furthermore, the combination of both aerobic exercise and resistance workouts may help raise “good” cholesterol (HDL) and decrease “bad” cholesterol (LDL).

Aerobic Exercise
Aerobic exercise (often referred to as cardio) has well-known heart health benefits. It improves circulation, which helps lower the heart rate and blood pressure while enhancing the body’s cardiac output (how well your heart pumps). Aerobic exercise also reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes and assists in controlling glucose levels in the blood.

Doctors generally recommend a minimum of 150 minutes a week of moderate activity. Therefore, it is ideal to do at least 30 minutes of heart-pumping activity each day for five or more days per week. Examples of aerobic exercise include:

  • Brisk walking – take a moment to get out in nature and walk.
  • Jump roping – this gets your blood and lymphatic fluid flowing.
  • Cycling – this workout is a great way to work out your legs.
  • Tennis – this is a good workout that also helps improve hand-eye coordination.
  • Swimming – this is a very effective full-body workout.
  • Running – grab your SPIbelt for one of the best cardio workouts for heart health.

Resistance Training (Strength Workouts)

Body fat, especially fat around the stomach is a risk factor for heart disease. However, strength workouts can help reduce body fat and create leaner muscle mass.

Experts in sports medicine generally recommend doing resistance training for at least two nonconsecutive days per week. A few examples of resistance training include weight lifting (using barbells), in addition to using:

  • Free weights (such as dumbbells and hand weights),
  • Weight machines,
  • Resistance bands or
  • Body-resistance exercises, such as push-ups, chin-ups, and squats.

What About Stretch Exercises?

Every day, but especially before and after aerobic or resistance exercise, make sure to stretch. Stretching or flexibility workouts do not directly contribute to heart health; however, these exercises are still beneficial and help prevent muscle cramps, joint pain, and other muscular issues. This, in turn, contributes to a good musculoskeletal foundation. Furthermore, stretch and flexibility exercises make a good base for healthy aerobic and resistance training workout regimens.

This February, make sure to take care of your heart (your physical one) by making time for aerobic and resistance exercises. Doing so will improve your heart health and maintain overall wellness.