On Your Health

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Exercise and Heart Health

The heart is an amazing muscle, but it needs good heart-pumping exercise to keep it healthy and working at its optimal rate. Aerobic exercise is a top choice to give your heart a great workout, but researchers say that other types of exercise can benefit your heart, too.

Here’s how to balance your fitness to get the best challenge for your heart and all the benefits from exercise.

Exercise and your heart

You already know that being physically active is a major part of maintaining your overall health, but it’s also the most effective way to keep your heart strong, your weight down and reduce your risk for artery-damaging conditions like high blood pressure or high cholesterol. While aerobic exercise is considered the most effective type of movement for heart health, you should also incorporate resistance and flexibility training into your regimen.

Here’s how the different types of exercise can benefit you.

Aerobic training

According to Johns Hopkins, sweating it out with aerobic exercise benefits your body by improving your circulation. Circulation plays a key role in blood pressure and heart rate, and a simple treadmill test can determine how effectively your heart is pumping. Most health professionals recommend at least 30 minutes of aerobic activity five days a week, which can include running, brisk walking, swimming, dance, cycling and other heart-raising activities. Plan for at least 150 minutes of moderate activity each week to get your heart in peak shape.

If you're just learning about cardio, here is what you need to know about the basics. If you are interested in learning to run, here's how to pick the right running shoe, and we've got a guide to beginning a running program, too. If you want to do your cardio in less than four minutes, try tabata!

Resistance training

Resistance and strength training may be just as important as aerobic activity for heart health. A recent study showed that strength training “had stronger links to reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases than dynamic activity, such as walking and cycling.” But don’t drop your running shoes for weights alone. The survey also suggested those who did both activities “fared better” than those who just did resistance training or aerobic training. Here's a great article about resistance bands, and here's a guide to getting started with a weight-lifting program, no matter your age.

Flexibility training

Balance and flexibility may not raise your heart rate as much as aerobic activity does, but it’s still vital to overall well-being. Why? Because flexibility and balance keep your joints in working order and make your muscular-skeletal system healthy enough to do weight training and aerobic exercise. It’s hard to get that heart pumping if you’re regularly injured or suffering from joint pain. Here is an article about hot yoga, which will keep you very flexible! If you're interested in something a little more gentle, try tai chi or yoga at any age. No matter what, don't skip your stretches! And foam rolling is also a great way to stay flexible.

Target heart rate: working hard or hardly working?

While any movement and aerobic activity is better than being sedentary, it’s important to reach a certain intensity to get the full benefits of a workout. Moderate and vigorous intensity will typically generate the best results. Find balance between the levels of intensity and remember the levels look different for each person. It can take some time to understand how to measure exercise intensity or know what your target heart rate should be.

You can always gauge how fiercely you exercise by how you feel, an experience otherwise known as perceived exertion. You can monitor your perceived exertion by paying attention to how hard you’re breathing, how difficult the exercise is for you and how fast your heart is beating. Moderate activity, for instance, may make you feel like you’re breathing faster, but you aren’t out of breath. It could also make you feel like you could carry on a conversation, but you can’t sing.

You can also measure exercise intensity by tracking your heart rate with a heart rate monitor. Determine your target heart rate by discovering your maximum heart rate and setting a goal from there. According to the Mayo Clinic, the easiest way to do this is to subtract your age from 220. If you’re 40 years old, for instance, your maximum heart rate would be 180. Once you have that number, you can find your target heart rate.

The American Heart Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend a general target heart rate of 50 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate for moderate intensity, or 70 to 85 percent for vigorous intensity.

For those just beginning to exercise, start with the lowest number of your target heart rate and gradually build intensity as you get stronger. You can check to see if you’re in the prime zone by pausing your activity and taking your pulse for 15 seconds with your carotid artery (located on the side of your neck). Count the number of beats and multiply that number by four. For example, if you are averaging 40 beats for that 15 seconds, your heart rate is 160.

Be heart smart

Always check with your physician or cardiologist before starting a new fitness routine, especially if you have heart or circulation issues. Certain medications, like those designed to lower blood pressure, can affect your maximum heart rate and target heart rate. Your doctor may suggest that you have an exercise stress test first.

Don’t overdo your workouts, especially if you’re just starting out. This can lead to injuries, soreness or frustration. If you need a good exercise or fitness plan, discuss the different options with your INTEGRIS physician to make sure you are healthy enough for exercise and understand what exercise options are appropriate for you.