Coronary heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States and it’s largely preventable. February is “American Heart Month” and February 6 is national “wear red day” – efforts by the American Heart Association to raise awareness of this silent threat. Please wear red but also take action to protect your own heart. One of the best ways to take action toward improving your heart’s health is to exercise.
Exercise is important for heart health for a number of reasons. It helps improve the efficiency of your heart. By elevating your heart rate during exercise, your heart adapts and doesn’t have to work as hard the rest of the day. Exercise also reduces your resting blood pressure, which also helps keep heart stress lower.
Julia Moffitt, Ph.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of physiology and pharmacology at Des Moines University, pointed out, “Exercise can help elevate HDL (good) cholesterol and lower LDL (bad) cholesterol. Regular exercise also helps keep our body weight lower, increases insulin sensitivity and improves overall circulation. We know that individuals who are active and regularly exercise have a much lower risk for developing cardiovascular disease and a lower all-cause mortality as well.”
Often, people aren’t sure what type of exercise would be the best for heart health – aerobic or non-aerobic? Well, first it’s important to understand what each of those terms means.
Dr. Moffit explains that aerobic exercise is anything at an intensity low enough you can maintain it for 10 minutes or longer. This is because oxygen must be used by your body to generate enough energy to sustain activity for this length of time. The term “aero” means air or oxygen. These are activities like walking, swimming, biking, running or cross-country skiing. These are considered good heart-healthy type of aerobic exercise.
Non-aerobic exercise would be any exercise of higher intensity that can only be maintained for short periods of time, like sprinting.
You should try to perform some form of aerobic exercise three to five times a week, for 20-60 minutes. If you can’t initially maintain activity for 20 minutes, start at five to 10 minutes and gradually lengthen the time. Try to exercise at an intensity that your heart rate and respiration rate is significantly elevated but not so intense that you cannot carry on a conversation with someone.
“Although any exercise is better than no exercise, to significantly improve your cardiovascular fitness you should focus on aerobic activities,” Dr. Moffitt explained.
Anyone who is interested in starting an exercise plan but has been living an inactive lifestyle should be screened prior to beginning. To take a quick test before beginning, visit Americanheart.org and search for “Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire.”