Did you know that the average heart beats approximately 2.5 billion times during a lifetime? This organ works incredibly hard on a daily basis, and it’s important to treat it with lots of love and care. That includes following heart-healthy habits like eating well, exercising, not smoking, and trying to minimize stress. We spoke with Elizabeth Klodas, MD FACC, a board-certified cardiologist, author, speaker, founder of the Preventative Cardiology Clinic near Minneapolis, Minnesota, and the founder and chief medical officer of Step One Foods, and learned some easy fitness tips to boost your heart health.
Show your heart some love, and learn the absolute best ways to take care of it through fitness. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), moderate to vigorous exercise, when performed on a regular basis, boosts the strength of your heart muscle. In doing so, you will improve how well your heart pumps blood throughout your entire body. When your heart performs in tip-top shape, a greater amount of blood will reach your muscles, and the level of oxygen in your blood increases.
So if you’re ready to give your workout routine an update, keep reading for some easy fitness tips to boost your heart health. And when you’re finished, be sure to check out these 4 Heart-Healthy Foods a Cardiologist Eats.
Dr. Klodas stresses the importance of exercising on a daily basis. “Just do something! Any amount of exercise is better than no activity at all,” she stresses. “Going from couch potato to even modest activity is associated with significant heart disease reduction.”
Some stellar ways to improve your routine include parking further away to get in extra steps when running errands, riding your bike into town (if you live close enough), and taking your dog for a few extra walks instead of letting your pooch out the back door! You can even invest in a walking pad for under your desk if you work at home, and strap on some ankle weights for an additional calorie burn. Be creative, because there are endless possibilities when it comes to adding extra physical activity to your day.
There are so many choices when it comes to adding aerobic exercise to your day. Dr. Klodas explains, “Moving your body through space by walking, biking, dancing, rowing, etc., helps reduce blood pressure and improve your cholesterol profile.”
And research backs up the benefits of this form of exercise! According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, patients who dealt with heart failure boosted their health and quality of life by performing aerobic exercise (cycling or walking) three to five times a week for a period of three years.
You likely know incorporating strength training into your routine is crucial if you want to lead a long, healthy, and independent life—especially when it comes to building and maintaining muscle mass. But did you know the link between strength training and your heart health?
Some research reflects that lifting weights could protect you more from heart disease when compared to cardiovascular exercise. In fact, according to research from Iowa State University, spending less than an hour each week lifting weights can decrease your chances of suffering from a stroke or heart attack by a whopping 40% to 70%!
“Strength training can help your cholesterol profile and is especially important for helping maintain healthy blood sugar levels—which has many important downstream effects,” Dr. Klodas tells us.
Getting in physical activity each day is an excellent way to kick stress to the curb. “Stress can be a contributor to not only high blood pressure but also acute events like heart attacks,” Dr. Klodas explains. “Most importantly, stress makes you less mindful and less focused on your own health. That can lead you to eat the wrong things, eat too much, or drink too much.”
Reaching and maintaining a weight that’s healthy for you is one of the best gifts you can give your heart. Being overweight is associated with higher blood cholesterol, diabetes, and blood pressure, according to UCSF Health.
“Exercise can help with weight reduction—but it’s best for ensuring weight maintenance after you’ve gotten to your goal weight,” Dr. Klodas says. “People who lose weight and keep it off are people who add regular exercise to their lifestyle routines.”
You don’t have to join a gym or perform a super complicated fitness routine in order to boost your heart health. By simply getting in some steps and taking an invigorating walk each day is a stellar way to exercise. The best part of walking is you don’t need fancy equipment and can check it off your list wherever you happen to be! Dr. Klodas recommends shooting for an hour’s worth of walking each day, which can be approximately four miles. Grab a friend to join you or stream a fun podcast, and it will make the time go by much faster.
When all is said and done, don’t make things too overwhelming! You can ease into a game plan without going full force from the get-go. “You don’t have to get to whatever fitness goal you have overnight,” Dr. Klodas confirms. “For example, if the goal is to get to one hour of daily walking, if you start with one minute and add one minute each day you will get to your 60-minute goal in just two months!”
Don’t be too hard on yourself—and just have fun with whatever physical activity you choose. After all, according to Dr. Klodas, “There is no right or wrong exercise. Do what you like to do. If you like to go biking, bike. If you like to go hiking, hike. If you prefer yoga or Pilates—do that. Mixing it up a little for a more rounded approach is ideal, but it’s more important that you move your body than how you move it.” So basically, just get to it!
“Make something you like to do conditional on exercise,” Dr. Klodas suggests. For instance, if you love to binge-watch movies or sports, do it while you’re on the treadmill or exercise bike. Or, if reading is more your cup of tea, order the audio version of a new book, and enjoy listening to it while you’re racking up steps around the block.