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5 Exercises to Improve Your Heart Health

woman doing weight training
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Experts will tell you that being active and getting 30 minutes of moderate exercise five times a week will improve your health. Active people tend to be fitter and generally enjoy better health. But if you’re concerned about your risk of heart disease due to past issues or a family history, there are ways that exercise can help reduce that risk.

Exercising in a specific way can definitely put you on the road to a healthier heart and a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. As we make our way through American Heart Month, here are five ways to exercise to keep your ticker in shape. (Keep in mind that you should always talk with your doctor before starting any kind of fitness regimen, especially if you’ve had heart trouble in the past.)

High-Intensity Interval Training

More and more research has shown that high-intensity interval training can provide a lot of benefits in a little time. The key is to get your heart rate up in bursts with short periods of rest in between. It’s even better if you alternate upper- and lower-body exercises in these intervals. This gets your blood pumping and improves vascular function. Intervals are also more effective at getting sugar and fat out of your blood.

Weight Training

Using hand weights for strength training is another great exercise for improving cardiovascular health and reducing your risk of heart disease. For one thing, weight training builds muscle and muscle burns fat more efficiently. Basically, training with free weights gets your heart rate up in intervals, just like cardio interval training, while it’s building your muscles. Using the hand weights improves core strength and balance at the same time. Strength training is also great for your bones.

Total Body Sports

Total body sports like swimming, rowing or cross-country skiing are also good for your heart. These kinds of exercises engage more muscle groups which translates to more work for your heart. And, with blood pumping all through your body, your vascular health is improved. Make sure you’re keeping the intensity at a high (but safe for you) level. For example, if you’re swimming, work toward covering eight to 12 pool lengths per technique, rather than just a leisurely lap around the pool. Again, you can use intervals to get your heart rate up in bursts.

Outdoor Sports

Running, walking, hiking and cycling may be more seasonal exercises for some of us, but they’re also fun ways to reduce our risk of heart disease. Your leg muscles make up a lot of your muscle mass, so when you do activities that work those muscles, you’re increasing your heart rate efficiently. You can also work out in intervals while enjoying the outdoors. Try running or riding in bursts with rest in between. Just be careful that you aren’t stressing your heart by starting out with long runs and rides. Build toward higher levels of intensity and longer periods of exercise. And remember, a long, slow run won’t do nearly as much good as a shorter run that’s done in intervals.

Yoga and Core

Finally, you might not consider yoga a great workout for your heart, but it is. Any kind of core strengthening is going to improve your cardiovascular health. Exercises like yoga and Pilates help build all-over strength and muscle tone, while also reducing blood pressure with the methodic and internalized nature of their focus. Stress levels affect heart health and yoga training is doctor recommended for stress reduction.

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