There are so many perks to getting your sweat on: A happier mood, that do-anything feeling (that helps you tackle your long list of must-get-to’s), better sleep, and, of course, reaching your fitness goals. But there’s another biggie: Heart health.
Exercise is associated with lower blood pressure, better insulin sensitivity, and healthier cholesterol and triglyceride levels, according to research — all things that decrease the risk of heart problems as you age.
Of course, some types of exercise are better than others for heart disease prevention — and you may be surprised to hear the answer.
So, What is the Best Exercise for Heart Health?
Don’t assume that you have to run or pedal harder than everyone else on your bike to get your ticker in shape. In fact, your general activity levels throughout the day might be more important than exactly what you’re doing.
Here’s why: A new study, published in January 2021 in the journal PLOS Medicine, concluded that people who have the most physically active lifestyles have the healthiest hearts.
In the study, researchers looked at accelerometer readings (a device that measures daily movement) over seven days for over 90,000 people who did not have cardiovascular disease. Their conclusion: Whether doing vigorous activity (like a run), moderate activity (like a walk), or just total time spent on your feet and moving around, being more active over the course of the day was associated with a stronger heart. For instance, compared to the least active folks, those who were the most active (recorded the most minutes of activity in the day) had a 53 percent lower risk of heart disease.
What’s more, the biggest couch potatoes tended to smoke more, have a higher BMI, and had higher levels of inflammatory markers. (Inflammation is detrimental to cardiovascular health).
Even better: There was no ‘upper limit’ to how much exercise for heart health you should do. Moving more was beneficial to your ticker, and people who were extremely active did not increase their risk of cardiovascular disease, including stroke, compared to when they limited themselves to current exercise recommendations.
On average, people in the study performed 743 minutes of moderate activity per week. If you’re thinking, whoa, that’s crazy, know that it didn’t mean they were in the gym for nearly two hours per day. Traditionally — and maybe even mistakenly — researchers and other experts would only count exercise that was done in at least 10-minute spurts. But that’s not exactly an accurate way to know how active someone is in their day-to-day.
In this study, the devices captured people moving for about 100-ish minutes per day. The takeaway: Every step you take counts when it comes to heart health. Heck, even past research shows that a light 5-minute jog decreases the risk of mortality from any cause and prevents heart disease.
Here’s Why “Every Move Counts” is Great News For Your Heart
Sometimes, it can feel easier when experts tell you exactly what to do, e.g., you should go for a run three times per week, do two HIIT sessions this week, or fit in a morning yoga practice. But here’s where that goes wrong. You might have physical limitations. Or maybe you just don’t like the workout that’s trending right now. Perhaps you have a tough time getting yourself to the gym, but you’re happy to spend a morning cycling at home.
If you don’t like the workout, you won’t stick with it. It might be fine for a week or a month, but eventually, dread will take over, and the couch will win over the workout every time.
The best workout for you — and your heart — is the one that you like the most, the movement that makes you feel good and nourished, and one that you can look forward to. If you’re not sure what that is yet, it’s a great time to try a variety of different types of workouts to learn about what really gets you going.
It also doesn’t have to make you pant and sweat. A systematic review and meta-analysis of more than 30 randomized controlled trials in the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology concluded that practicing yoga was linked to improvements in BMI, blood pressure, cholesterol, and heart rate.
Oh, and remember that every step counts — not even just the ones during planned exercise. Biking to work has been shown to prevent heart disease. The fact that you decided to walk to get groceries or get an errand done? Yep, that’s exercise that also makes a difference for your heart health. Walking up your stairs to do laundry? Sure, that, too. Playing a game of “chase me” with your kids or nephews? That racks up those heart-strengthening steps. Even dropping down for a couple of burpees is an effective way to boost your cardiovascular fitness.
Whatever you do to stay active today is the best move for your heart.
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