Written by: Cameron Rosario
Medically reviewed by: Rob Philibert MD PhD
The idea of a positive association between regular physical activity and the human body is not an unfamiliar one. In 2003, Jonathan Myers reviewed the extant literature and suggested that approximately 250,000 deaths each year were preventable by exercise. Despite this and similar studies, many adults fail to engage in even modest levels of exercise. This failure may be attributed to the challenges of engaging in consistent exercising and/or the lack of knowledge surrounding the benefits of exercising.
Contrary to popular belief, it is never too late to start incorporating heart healthy exercises to improve your heart fitness. A study published in The New England Journal of Medicine investigated the trend between lifestyle changes, including increased physical activity, and the rate of all-cause death and from coronary heart disease (CHD) in middle-aged and older men. The authors concluded that by beginning moderately vigorous activities along with other lifestyle modifications, men decreased their likelihood of death and coronary heart disease CHD.
Figuring out how to tailor your exercise routine by using different types of exercise techniques and making it suit your lifestyle can be transformative to your heart health. By creating a custom routine, enhancing your heart fitness can be as easy as brushing your teeth!
1. Aerobic Exercise
Aerobic exercise, also known as cardio, is exercise that contracts large muscle groups in repetitive motions to increase heart rate. The term “aerobic” denotes the fact that these workouts improve the body’s ability to maximize aerobic capacity (maximal oxygen consumption). A temporary rapid increase in cardiac output and blood pressure can encourage the body to adapt to the exercise, resulting in improved circulation of oxygen in the blood, a lower blood pressure, and stronger heart muscles and blood vessels. In addition, aerobic exercise can increase insulin sensitivity, which means that if you already live with diabetes, you can gain greater control over your blood glucose.
Ideally, aerobic exercise should be performed 30 minutes a day 5 days a week. Some common activities can be done indoors, such as jumping rope and running on a treadmill, or outdoors, such as swimming, cycling or playing tennis. It is also important to remember that aerobic exercise does not have to be a mundane activity! Keep yourself excited for your next workout by alternating intensities to try new hobbies and work different muscles and lower risk of overuse injuries.
2. Resistance Training (Strength Work)
As compared to aerobic exercise, resistance training has a more specific effect on body composition. It is specifically used to improve metabolism to avoid diabetes, which can increase your risk for heart disease, and strengthen muscles and bones to help you perform daily tasks with ease. Furthermore, regular resistance training has demonstrated promising results in decreasing chronically elevated cholesterol levels associated with heart disease. In fact, an article published in Sports Medicine has suggested that regularly performing resistance training alongside aerobic exercise can increase the “good” cholesterol, high density lipoprotein (HDL), and decrease the “bad” cholesterol, low density lipoprotein (LDL).
According to the American College of Sports Medicine, resistance training should be done at least two nonconsecutive days every week. It is also important to try and switch between targeting different body parts or switching between the upper and lower body. Some examples of resistance training include using free weights (hand/ankle weights, dumbbells, and/or barbells), resistance bands, and body resistance workouts like push-ups and sit-ups.
3. Stretching, Flexibility, and Balance
While stretching, flexibility, and balance does not have a direct impact on your heart fitness, it can make performing exercises that do promote heart fitness and tone easier by improving musculoskeletal health. Increasing flexibility and balance will enhance stability, reducing your chances of falls that could inhibit further exercise.
Stretching, flexibility, and balance exercises should be completed every day, especially before workouts to avoid tightness or pain. To start, each desired position should be done slowly and held for about 10 seconds each. The amount of time you spend holding each stretch should increase as your body will find it progressively easier.
It is important to keep in mind that though pushing yourself to improve your flexibility and balance levels is beneficial, being aware of your limits is also important. One of the best ways to find the ideal stretches for your body is by consulting your doctor.
To fully optimize your heart fitness, it is important to consider how you can tailor your workout routine to fit your goals and fitness level. To help determine this, the FITT principle acts as a guideline that tracks and measures your progress.
The FITT principle focuses on 4 key questions:
- Frequency: How often do you exercise? Usually measured in days per week.
- Intensity: At what intensity is your body working? Usually measured as light, moderate, and vigorous.
- Time: How long do you exercise during each session?
- Type: What types of exercises are you doing?
Exercising does not need to be an activity you dread. By learning about the different types of exercise, you can find what works best for your lifestyle and take the necessary steps to a healthier heart!