Be Still, My Beating Heart

This past Friday was National Wear Red Day, which is designed to raise awareness of heart disease. According to the CDC, heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States, accounting for about 1 in every 5 female deaths.

Being physically active is a huge step toward good heart health. It is one of your most effective tools for strengthening the heart muscle, keeping your weight under control and warding off the artery damage from high cholesterol, high blood sugar and high blood pressure that can lead to heart attack or stroke. 

According to Kerry J. Stewart, an exercise physiologist with Johns Hopkins Medicine, aerobic exercise and resistance training are the most important exercises for heart health. And although flexibility does not contribute directly to heart health, it is also important because it provides a good foundation for performing aerobic and strength exercises more effectively.

Here is how these different types of exercise benefit you:

Aerobic Exercise

Aerobic exercise improves circulation, which results in lowered blood pressure and heart rate, according to Stewart. In addition, aerobic exercise helps improve how well your heart pumps. It also reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes and, if you already live with diabetes, can help you control your blood glucose.

Examples of aerobic exercise include brisk walking, running, swimming, cycling, tennis and jumping rope.

Resistance Training

Resistance training has a more specific effect on body composition, according to Stewart. For people who are carrying a lot of body fat (including a big belly, which is one risk factor for heart disease), resistance training can help reduce fat and create leaner muscle mass. Research shows that a combination of aerobic exercise and resistance training may help raise HDL (good) cholesterol and lower LDL (bad) cholesterol.

Examples of resistance training include working out with free weights (such as hand weights, dumbbells or barbells) or resistance bands or through bodyweight exercises, such as squats, push-ups, and sit-ups. For more bodyweight exercise ideas check out these videos .

Stretching, Flexibility and Balance

Flexibility workouts benefit musculoskeletal health, which enables you to stay flexible and free from joint pain, cramping and other muscular issues. While these exercises do not directly contribute to heart health, they are still super important because flexibility is a critical part of being able to maintain aerobic exercise and resistance training. Good examples of flexibility workouts include stretching, mobility exercises, foam rolling, and yoga.

A good musculoskeletal foundation enables you to do the exercises that help your heart, according to Stewart. As an added bonus, flexibility and balance exercises help maintain stability and prevent falls, which can cause injuries that would sideline you from being able to maintain your exercise routine.

You can find out more about mobility exercises that benefit your hips and back here and your feet here.

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