Exercise is a key part of having a healthy heart, but it doesn't have to be a chore. As the weather warms up, now is the perfect time to find an activity you enjoy and can stick with. Beginning to exercise after a sedentary winter does not have to be intimidating — in fact, it can be fun.
Current recommendations are for all adults to obtain at least 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity every week. This breaks down to something as simple as walking 30 minutes five days a week. If you don't have a 30-minute block, exercise in 10- to 15-minute intervals throughout the day. The key is to move. Any activity is better than no activity.
Types of exercise can be divided into a few categories: aerobic, resistance and flexibility. Aerobic exercise, which raises the heart rate, is the most familiar to many people and includes walking, jogging or sports such as tennis. It's also the key to improving cardiovascular health. Aerobic activity can improve HDL (good) cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and relieve anxiety and stress — all key factors in maintaining a healthy heart. Aerobic activity, matched with watching what you eat, can also spur weight loss. And it's a vital component for maintaining any weight loss.
Resistance exercise increases strength and muscle mass and generally involves weights or resistance bands. Performing resistance training two to three days a week can increase mobility and lean body mass.
Flexibility exercise, such as yoga and pilates, stretches and lengthens muscles. The benefits of flexibility training, which should be done two to three times a week, include greater mobility, better balance and fewer falls.
These are just general guidelines. Most of us do a variety of these exercises, and most exercise routines include aerobic, resistance and flexibility components. For example, during a single session of yoga, you can raise your heart rate, increase muscle mass and develop your flexibility all at the same time.
Even if you have suffered from heart disease in the past, you must exercise. In fact, heart-disease and heart-attack survivors especially need to exercise to regain heart function. Cardiologists recommend that those who have had previous heart trouble begin to exercise again in a safe, supervised environment such as a cardiac rehabilitation facility. There, each person receives an individualized exercise plan and is monitored while exercising.
No matter your current level of fitness, the key to heart-healthy exercise is to find something you enjoy and just do it.
Dr. Alison Bailey is also director of the UK HealthCare Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation Program.