Heart Healthy Workouts
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, but you can reduce your risk with exercise. Inactive people are twice as likely to develop heart disease as those who regularly work out. Your heart is a muscle, and like all muscles it needs to be kept in good condition through activity. American Heart Month is a great time to discover and develop the right workout regimen for you.
If you're getting back into shape, you're probably wondering what kinds of exercise you should adopt as part of a workout regimen. You should develop a workout routine based on your health goals, your body's needs, and the advice of your doctor, but broadly speaking you'll be looking at the three types of exercise below.
Sometimes referred to as cardio, these exercises are about building cardiovascular endurance. Your aim is to improve circulation, which lowers blood pressure and heart rate. Generally speaking, aerobic exercise raises your heart and breathing rates into a moderate-to-vigorous intensity level for at least 10 minutes.
Cardio exercises are defined by their frequency, intensity, and duration. It can have varying levels of impact on your body. Cardio exercises include:
- Brisk walking or jogging.
- Cross-country skiing.
- Jumping rope.
- Cardio machines: ellipticals, treadmills, stationary bikes, rowing machines.
Proper aerobic exercise requires a warm-up period while starting and a cool-down at the end of the workout. Five to ten minutes of low intensity warming up and stretching before a workout will help your blood flow and your muscles to loosen up while steadily raising your heart rate. If you're using a heart rate monitor, follow these guidelines:
- Exercise at 50 to 60 percent of your maximum heart rate for both your warm up and your cool down.
- Stretch before your workout, and focus on stretching the muscles your workout will use.
- Aim for 20 to 60 minutes exercising in your target heart rate zone.
- Increase your workout duration and improve your form before increasing intensity.
- Increase intensity when you're ready by adding speed, intervals, hills, or other forms of difficulty.
How frequently should you do aerobic exercise? The American College of Sports Medicine recommends cardio exercise 3 to 5 days a week. The minimum amount of exercise recommended by the American Heart Association is 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week, or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity exercise. Just 30 minutes a day for 5 days a week would reach this fitness goal!
Resistance training, or strength training, is vital for a balanced fitness program. Even older adults can find value in this type of exercise, which helps slow age-related muscle loss, build the strength of your muscles and connective tissue, increase bone density and prevent osteoporosis, protect you from injury, and relieve arthritis pain.
It's also a great way to burn calories and lose fat, converting your energy into leaner muscle mass. If you only do cardio exercise, a lot of weight loss can come from lost muscle, which slows your metabolism. The combination of cardio and strength training may help raise HDL (good) cholesterol and lower LDL (bad) cholesterol.
Common forms of resistance training include:
- Free weights: hand weights, dumbbells, barbells.
- Weight machines.
- Resistance bands.
- Body resistance exercises: exercises that use your own body's weight to create resistance, such as chin-ups, push-ups, or squats.
If you're new to resistance training, you'll want to speak to a fitness trainer about building a workout routine that won't put harmful strain on your body. They can teach you proper form to prevent you from injury, as even common strength training exercises can be damaging done the wrong way.
If you're overweight or getting back in shape, you may want to choose machines over free weights, as many machines provide seated exercise with back support.
- A good beginner's workout will consist of something like 8 to 12 repetitions of 8 to 10 different exercises spanning all muscle groups.
- Use enough weight to feel resistance, but not so much that it causes strain or pain.
- Make sure to strengthen your core muscles (in your abdominal or lower back area), as a strong core is crucial to avoiding injury.
How frequently should you do resistance training? At least two nonconsecutive days a week, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. Don't overdo it! Your body needs time to rebuild muscle after a workout.
Flexibility training, which also comprises stretching and balance exercises, don't directly contribute to your heart health, but instead improve your musculoskeletal health, making your body stronger and exercise easier. Stretching, flexibility, and balance exercises can:
- Help maintain stability and prevent falls.
- Improve flexibility.
- Reduce joint pain, cramping, or other muscular issues.
Basic stretches can be done anywhere, and you can get suggestions from your doctor or follow along with online videos or DVDs. You may want to consider getting an exercise mat and joining classes such as yoga or Tai Chi for improved flexibility training.
Stretches come in two basic types:
- Static stretches involve stretching a muscle to its full extent for 15 to 30 seconds.
- Dynamic stretches move your muscle groups through their full range of motion and may be even more effective than static stretches.
How frequently should you do flexibility training? Every day! It's low impact and a necessary warm up for cardio and strength training. Dynamic stretches in particular are a great complement to your workouts.
Sticking with It
Remember, any successful exercise program requires consistency, structure, and support. Stick with it, chart achievable goals, keep track of your progress, and find support with others on their own fitness journey. Be patient and learn how your own progress is measured according to your body and needs.
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