A Strong Heart = A Healthy Heart
It’s no secret that a regular exercise program is a great way to make your body look good, feel good and move better, but it’s also an ideal way to take care of your body’s most important muscle – your heart!
The human heart is an amazing piece of equipment, capable of pumping about five quarts of blood throughout the body EVERY minute – that’s around 2,000 gallons of blood each day! On top of that, the average heart beats about 100,000 times each day, making it easy to understand why a strong, healthy heart is so important.
While you can exercise to build strength in your skeletal muscles, many people don’t realize how a proper exercise routine can also help your heart become stronger, healthier and more efficient at doing its job.
How A Healthy Heart Can Dramatically Increase Your Quality Of Life
Despite all of the positive benefits that we know about regular exercise, according to the American Heart Association nearly 70% of Americans don’t get enough. In turn, inactivity and a lack of exercise is one of the major risk factors for developing coronary artery disease (CAD). CAD is caused by deposits of fatty substances, cholesterol, calcium and other substances in the inner lining of the arteries that supply blood to the heart. This build up eventually makes the arteries more narrow or even blocked, preventing the oxygen-rich blood from reaching the heart. Over time, CAD will weaken the heart muscle and ultimately result in chest pain, a heart attack, or heart failure.
While CAD is the most common type of heart disease and the leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women, it’s also very preventable through lifestyle changes like exercise and diet.
Just Making Exercise A Regular Part Of Your Lifestyle Can Result In:
- Strengthened heart and cardiovascular system
- Improved circulation/oxygen use
- Increased energy levels
- Increased endurance
- Lower blood pressure
- Reduced stress
- Improved muscle tone and strength
- Improved balance and joint flexibility
- Stronger bones
- Healthy body weight
- Improved sleep
- Increased self-esteem
The 5 Best Activities For Strengthening Your Heart
Ideally you should aim for a well-rounded fitness program that incorporates a wide variety of exercises. Without variety, the body has an amazing way of adapting to movement. As a general rule, when something becomes easy to complete, you’ll want to increase the intensity or progress to more advanced exercises to keep it challenging. I highly suggest a program that incorporates the following:
1. Interval Training
This is when you alternate short bursts of higher intensity exercises with a low-intensity recovery period. Intervals can be incorporated into a wide variety of ways….walking, running, biking, rowing, treadmills, weights, etc.
2. Strength Training
Aim for a total body strength routine using your bodyweight, resistance bands, free-weights or any combination of the three.
3. Avoid Long Periods of Sitting
Recent studies clearly show that even the fittest of people are negatively affected by sitting for long periods of time. You need to move all day long, even in non-exercise activities. Set a timer to go off every 10-15 minutes as a reminder to get up and move around for a minute or two.
4. Focus on Your Core
The core muscles (consisting of approximately 25+ muscles throughout your back, abdomen and pelvis) provide the foundation for movement throughout the entire body. Keeping them strong and functioning properly will allow you to move the way your body was meant to and prevent debilitating back injuries that could prevent you from being able to exercise.
Keeping the muscles and joints of the body flexible and mobile will help prevent injuries and aid in the body’s ability to move and function properly.
Don’t Forget About Your Diet For Heart Health
Equally important is a diet that focuses on heart healthy food. One thing we continually stress to our training clients is that you cannot out-train a bad diet. Just because you work out, that does not give you a free pass to eat and/or drink whatever you want. Exercise and nutrition go hand-in-hand and doing your best to adhere to a regular routine with both will go a long way in keeping your body heart-healthy.
Here Are A Few Dietary Guidelines To Strengthen Your Heart:
1. Go easy on the sodium
Too much sodium greatly increases your chances of heart disease, stroke and other health problems. The average American eats more than double the daily recommended daily allowance of sodium – most of which comes from processed foods. Learn to read food labels and choose items that are low in sodium.
2. Eat your fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are loaded with vitamins, minerals and other heart-healthy nutrients. Fresh, frozen, dried, canned, salads, juices…there are a ton of ways to get them, so no excuses!
3. Know your good fats from your bad fats
Learn how to substitute good fats (mono and polyunsaturated fats) for bad fats (saturated and trans fats). For example, try canola oil or olive oil instead of butter. Choose lean meats, poultry without skin and fish instead of fattier cuts of meats.
4. Stay home
Preparing your own meals is a great way to assure you know what’s going into what you eat and also allows you to better control portion sizes.
In Summary, A Stronger Heart Is Possible!
If you’re new to exercise and/or healthy eating, do not allow yourself to feel overwhelmed. You CAN do it … every little bit counts! Take the stairs, go for a walk over lunch, hire a trainer, play with your kids, order a salad, pack your own lunch … it’s all about the choices you make that will determine your future health. Treat your body right and enjoy the benefits of a strong, healthy heart!
About the writer: Ken Grall is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and owns and operates an Edge Fitness in Madison, Wisconsin. Learn more about Ken.