Exercise is an integral part of maintaining a healthy heart. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), being physically active is key to helping prevent heart disease, the leading cause of death in America.
Aerobic exercise has been shown to improve circulation, lowering blood pressure and heart rate. According to the Mayo Clinic, by engaging large muscle groups like your arms, legs and hips, aerobic exercise gets your heart beating faster, increasing blood flow to your muscles and back to your lungs. This means boosting the amount of oxygen that's delivered, leading your heart to pump more efficiently and improving blood flow to all parts of the body. Working out with weights helps too. According to research in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, moderate-intensity strength training also significantly lowers blood pressure by reducing pressure on arterial walls.
Positively impact your heart, and get your blood moving by adding these exercises to your routine. Aim for five 30-minute aerobic training sessions a week and two nonconsecutive days a week of resistance training.
It might seem somewhat obvious, but start by putting one foot in front of the other. This low-impact exercise increases blood flow throughout the body. You don't have to speed walk either. Walking at any pace increases muscle contraction in the legs, allowing large veins to contract and relax, thus increasing blood pump. Really looking to max out on improved heart health? Aim to reach between 50 to 85 percent of your max heart rate.
Swimming uses all major muscle groups—from kicking with your legs to pushing with powerful arm strokes—thus improving strength. Swimming also works the heart and lungs by training your body to use oxygen more efficiently. A study from the Cooper Clinic in Dallas found that swimmers and runners had the best stats on measures of cardiovascular health, such as blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Compound movements that target larger muscle groups mean a bigger boost in blood flow. Since squats require total-body movement and recruit lower-body muscles including the quads, hamstrings and glutes, they help increase blood flow. Strength training also means building lean muscle and ultimately reducing pressure on arterial walls by giving your cardiovascular system more places to pump blood.
Focusing on your breath and meditation can help your heart health as well. In fact, the "OM factor" in yoga has been linked to improved heart health—from improving BMI and blood pressure to cholesterol and heart rate. Yoga poses, such as padangusthasana (big toe pose) and janu sirsasana (head-to-knee forward bend) are therapeutic for high blood pressure.
Don't skip your cool down—it's good for your heart. Specifically, self-myofascial release (SMR)—self massage of an area of soft tissue—is beneficial. While it's previously been shown to have advantages, such as increased flexibility and blood flow to muscles themselves, it can also benefit cardiovascular health. According to a 2014 study, SMR using a foam roller was found to reduce arterial stiffness and improve blood flow.
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