Exercises That Can Help Strengthen Your Heart
Cardiovascular (aerobic) exercises help to condition and strengthen your heart muscle. It is generally recommended that people include at least 30 minutes of moderate cardiovascular exercise a minimum of three times per week. In addition to strengthening your heart muscle, cardiovascular exercise can also help lower your blood pressure, increase HDL (good) cholesterol, reduce your stress level, and lower your resting heart rate.
Not all forms of cardiovascular exercise are suitable for everyone. Consult with your physician before starting any exercise program so that you can choose the program that is best suited to your current physical condition.
What are the Different Types of Cardiovascular Exercise?
There are a number of cardiovascular exercises suitable for most fitness levels and interests, as well. Some of the more popular forms of cardiovascular exercise include:
- Walking – Walking is a less strenuous form of cardiovascular exercise. Walking is an excellent choice for people who are just getting started with an exercise routine. As you get stronger, try increasing your pace or duration.
- Swimming – Swimming is an excellent low-impact cardiovascular exercise, which makes it an ideal choice for people with arthritis. Water-based aerobics are also becoming increasingly popular.
- Step Aerobics – Step aerobics are one of the more popular forms of cardiovascular exercise. Step aerobics focus primarily on your legs, hips and gluteus muscles.
- Bicycling – Bicycling is a versatile cardiovascular activity since it can be done either indoors or outdoors. You can also choose to go at a more leisurely pace or engage in a vigorous workout, depending on your resistance setting and terrain.
- Cross-Country Skiing – Whether done indoors on a machine or outdoors on the snow, cross-country skiing is a good cardiovascular exercise choice as it involves both your upper and lower body.
- Running – Running is an excellent cardiovascular exercise because all you need is a pair of quality running shoes. Running is also versatile since it can be done indoors on a treadmill or in the great outdoors.
The Components of Cardiovascular Exercise
There are some specific guidelines for the frequency, duration, and intensity of cardiovascular exercise to help ensure maximum effectiveness and safety. Here are some things you should keep in mind before you engage in any form of cardiovascular exercise:
- Warming Up and Stretching – You should warm up your muscles for at least 5 to 10 minutes at a low intensity to help get blood circulating through them. Once you have warmed up, you should stretch the primary muscles you will be using during your workout to help prevent unnecessary muscle strain or injury. When done with warming up, dynamic stretching (stretching combined with active movement) is best done pre-workout, while static stretching is done when you’re finished exercising.
- Cooling Down – Cooling down after you finish exercising is just as important as warming up beforehand. The cooling down period should last 5 to 10 minutes and be done at a low intensity (50 to 60% of your maximum heart rate). Once you have finished cooling down, you should end your workout by stretching the major muscle groups that you just used to help minimize muscle pain and stiffness after your workout.
- Workout Duration – According to the American College of Sports Medicine, the recommended time for a cardiovascular workout, not counting the warm-up or cool-down, should be from 20 to 60 minutes of continuous or intermittent (a minimum of 10 minute bouts accumulated throughout the day) aerobic activity. If you are just starting out, you should take a conservative approach and train at fairly low intensities for only 10 to 25 minutes. You can slowly increase the duration and intensity of your workout as your endurance improves.
- Your Target Heart Rate – When you are exercising, your target heart rate should be between 50-85% of your maximum heart rate, according to the American Heart Association. If you are just starting out with an exercise routine, you should probably try to remain in the lower end of your target heart rate zone. As your strength and endurance improve, you can gradually work up to the higher end.