People who don't exercise are almost twice as likely to get heart disease as people who are active. The best way to keep your heart healthy is to do aerobic exercise. The American Heart Association recommends 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise on most days of the week. Even if you divide your exercise time into ten- or fifteen-minute blocks throughout the day, you still get the benefits. Aerobic exercise improves heart and lung function and can reduce many of the risk factors for heart disease.
Aerobic exercises are those that keep your heart rate elevated in a continuous, steady manner over a period of time. To get the most benefit from aerobic exercise, aim for 50 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate. To estimate your maximum heart rate, subtract your age from 220. If you don’t want to stop to count heartbeats, you can assume that you’re in your target rate if you can have a conversation while exercising without being too out of breath. You can also measure your heart rate with a heart-rate monitor or fitness watch.
The most effective aerobic exercises you can add to your routine to keep your heart healthy include the following:
- Walking is probably the easiest and most convenient exercise you can do to keep your heart in shape. It’s free, you don’t need fancy equipment, and it’s easy to fit into a busy day. You can squeeze in walking time by walking to work, walking and talking on the phone, or walking your dog around your neighborhood.
- Stair climbing is an easy way to get your heart rate up into that target range quickly. You can climb any staircase at home or at work, or use a stair machine in the gym.
- Biking is a great way to get your heart rate up and avoid impact. A mountain, road, or a stationary bike will give you these benefits. Pedaling a stationary bike at home can put you on the road to heart health when it’s too cold or too wet to cycle outside.
- Swimming is another one of the best aerobic exercises. It’s the third most popular sports activity in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Two and a half hours of swimming per week will give you all the aerobic heart health benefits you need. Swimming is also great because it doesn’t put any stress on your bones and joints. That can be especially helpful if you’re a little overweight or have a joint condition such as arthritis.
- Elliptical training machines are one of the fastest-growing aerobic exercise options. These machines are available in most gyms and can also be purchased for exercise at home. The ellipticals with arm and leg movement handles are the best to get blood flowing to your upper and lower body at the same time, which means your heart will have to work twice as hard.
- Dancing is a fantastic form of aerobic exercise. It’s fun and you can do it anywhere. All you need is good music and a little space. You can also take dance classes such as Zumba or salsa at a club. Any type of dance that gets your heart beating will work.
- Weight lifting can be an aerobic exercise if done correctly. When you do a circuit (different exercises in a row with no rest in between), you can elevate your heart rate and work out your muscles at the same time. Think Crossfit style workouts or nonstop fitness classes.
Regular aerobic exercise has so many benefits beyond just heart health. In addition to helping to control blood pressure, aerobic exercise reduces stress and depression, improves cholesterol levels, helps weight loss, decreases diabetic blood sugars, increases muscle and bone strength, and helps prevent blood clots.
Remember to always check with your doctor before beginning any new exercise regime. The key is to find aerobic exercises you enjoy and do them consistently.