If you've never thought about the condition of your heart, now is the time to give it some attention.
According to the American Heart Association, cardiovascular disease (including heart disease and stroke) is the leading cause of death worldwide, killing more than 17.6 million people a year. Even though you can’t change things like your genetics, family history or age, you can still make lifestyle changes to impact your health.
How to strengthen your heart
Today we’re focusing on exercises to improve heart health. Exercising is a major step toward a healthy heart because it's one of the most effective ways to strengthen the heart muscle, maintain a healthy weight and ward off artery damage from high blood sugar, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
I encourage you to think of your heart just like any other muscle in your body. When you strengthen your muscles, it helps them become more efficient and makes them better able to pump blood throughout your body. Your heart is similar to your bicep in that the more you make it work, the stronger it becomes.
What exercise strengthens your heart
Here are some exercises to help you get your heart pumping.
One of the best ways to get the heart working is to do cardio. Cardio is exercise that's good for the heart because it strengthens your heart and blood vessels. It helps lower your blood pressure and cholesterol. Cardio helps improve the flow of oxygen throughout your body and reduces your risk of health issues.
The following cardio moves incorporate the arms because raising your arms up as high or higher than your heart means your body will have to work harder to breathe. It’s an effective way to get out of breath faster during cardio and get in a better workout in a shorter amount of time.
This is a move that you can do and feel excited about. Reach the arms up straight above your head, while bringing one knee up at a time like a high march in place. Continue reaching the arms up each time you bring your knee up, and then bring the arms down when you bring the knee down.
If you want to step it up and make this even more challenging, you can run in place with high knees and add a bounce to the step. Reach your arms up and down 10 times to get your heart rate up.
For this exercise, you’ll punch across your body towards the left with your right arm as you tap your right foot in place. Then switch sides and alternate this for 10 times to each side. Or you can step it up and add in a bounce.
Slowing down and breathing can help calm your nervous system which contributes to heart health. If you're constantly in a fight-or-flight state (aka stressed) that puts added stress on your body too. Stretching helps improve factors that contribute to heart disease risk. It can help lower blood pressure and ease stress. Here are some great stretches to try:
For this one, you can stand or sit and then clasp your hands behind your back. Press your palms together, and bring your shoulders back. This will open up the front of your body and your chest. Take a few slow, deep breaths here.
Heart Stretching Power Pose
Reach your arms up on a diagonal in front of you and arch your back. Or, you can clasp your hands above your head and reach them back behind you. If you're using these stretches to warm up before a workout, remember to keep moving while stretching (as opposed to holding static stretches) because you're body isn't warmed up. But in general, doing these stretches a few times throughout the day (at any time) is best and they can't be done at a wrong time.
Finally, we can’t forget strength training and how it contributes to a healthy heart. Strength training helps improve risk factors for cardiovascular disease (like high blood pressure and high cholesterol). Stronger muscles lead to a boost in your metabolic rate, which means you'll burn more calories even when your body is at rest. This helps with fat loss, too. The general recommendation is at least two or three days per week of strength training to get the optimal benefits.
Sit and stand when you can
The first move is very basic. Simply stand up from your chair, and sit back down. Sitting at your chair at work, put your feet down on the ground as wide as your hips, then stand up. Then sit down. Repeat this 10 times just like a squat. The goal is to tap your glutes onto the chair
Side lunge into a chair
The next move is lunging to the side and tapping your glute on the chair. Step to the right with your right foot, bend the right knee so that the knee is tracking over the right foot’s second toe, and sit back with your right glute to tap it onto the chair. Press off the right heel, and come back to the starting position. Repeat 10 times to the right and then switch to the left side.