Exercise for a Healthy Heart
Put your hand on your heart and press gently until you can feel it beating. Got it? Good, now think about this: That thumping you feel in your chest is keeping you alive; breathing, moving, blinking, reading this sentence. Day-in day-out, your heart keeps pumping. It never rests, it never sleeps, it never takes a holiday.
Sound like a tough job? It is. Which is why you need to keep your heart as strong and healthy as possible. Exercise is one of the best ways to achieve this.
But how do you exercise in a way that will benefit your heart? Read on to find out.
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Three ways exercise helps your heart
Your heart is a muscle
Your heart is a muscle, and like all muscles it becomes stronger as a result of exercise. Imagine lifting a heavy box; if you have strong arm and back muscles, the box is easier to lift and your body doesn’t strain as much, right? Well, it’s the same with your heart. A strong heart pumps blood throughout your body more effectively than a weak one.
Exercise can also lower blood pressure. Blood pressure is the force created by your heart as it pushes blood into the arteries and through your body - kind of like the pressure in a hose as water goes through it. High blood pressure (also called hypertension) occurs when there is resistance to blood flow, causing it to move through your arteries at a higher pressure than normal. This means your heart has to pump harder to get the blood around. Exercise can reduce this pressure by aiding blood flow.
Exercise also increases HDL (good) cholesterol levels, while reducing LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. Healthier cholesterol levels mean a healthier heart.
The best approach for your heart
Any type of exercise is beneficial for your health, but aerobic exercise strengthens your heart most effectively.
To return to the box-lifting scenario; building up the muscles in your arms and back typically involves “strength-building” exercises such as weight lifting. But it’s different with your heart. Although your heart is also a muscle, it relies on aerobic (cardiovascular) exercise to grow stronger. Aerobic exercise basically means any exercise that works up a sweat and makes your heart beat faster, such as walking, jogging, swimming, and cycling.
To maximise the heart-health benefits of aerobic exercise, you need to work out 3-4 times per week for at least 20 minutes and exercise within your target heart rate.
Your target heart rate is the number of times your heart beats per minute, calculated at 50-85 percent of your maximum heart-rate capacity (MHR). To find out what your target heart rate is, click on the link at the end of this article.
To see if you're reaching your target heart rate while exercising, take your pulse a few times during your workout. Just measure the beats over 15 seconds and then multiply by four to get beats-per-minute.
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