According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 610,000 people
die of heart disease every year in the United States, accounting for one in every fourth deaths.
And that’s despite the fact that U.S. healthcare spending surpassed $9,500 per person in 2014.
The statistics may be dire, but with so many people suffering with—and dying from—heart disease
every year, the good news is that it has brought a lot of attention to the subject.
With that awareness comes advice, and we all know the standard suggestions for keeping hearts healthy:
Limit fried, processed and other nutrient-deficient foods; fill up on fruits, vegetables, lean protein and
whole grains; and quit smoking.
Exercise is an important factor in staving off heart disease as well, as the American Heart Association
says that “regular physical activity can help you maintain your weight, keep off weight that you lose
and help you reach physical and cardiovascular fitness.”
“Exercise is an important factor in staving off heart
disease as well, as the American Heart Association
says that “regular physical activity can help you maintain
your weight, keep off weight that you lose and help you
reach physical and cardiovascular fitness.”
The question is, what kind of physical activity is best for preventing heart disease?
From kickboxing to pilates, there is no shortage of exercises for people to choose from.
And as it turns out, there are a few that have special advantages for those who want to take extra care
of their hearts.
It’s no wonder that walking is the most popular aerobic physical activity, according to the CDC.
It’s easy, perfect for all fitness levels and requires little more than a good pair of sneakers to
But walking isn’t just super convenient—it’s also great for heart health.
In fact, Hippocrates once said that “Walking is a man’s best medicine.”
Research supports this theory time and time again.
A 2015 study found that a daily walk of just 25 minutes can add up to seven years of life, while
also cutting in half the risk of someone in their 50s or 60s dying from a heart attack.
And in the case of putting one foot in front of the other, faster isn’t necessarily better.
A study reported in the American Heart Association journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and
Vascular Biology showed that a brisk walk can lower the risk of high blood pressure, high
cholesterol and diabetes (all major risk factors for heart disease) just as much as running.
Walking is notoriously easy on the joints—a fact which is certainly responsible for at least some of its
But swimming is perhaps an even better form of exercise for those suffering with joint or muscle pain.
A study conducted at Dallas’ Cooper Clinic and reported in the International Journal of Aquatic Research
and Education divided participants into four groups: swimmers, runners, walkers and non-exercisers.
At the end of the study, blood pressure, cholesterol levels and other markers of heart health were best
in the groups of swimmers and runners, followed by walkers and, finally, the sedentary group.
These results can be attributed to the vigorous nature of swimming—despite the fact that it doesn’t
necessarily feel vigorous because of support and cushioning from the water.
Swimming is a total body workout that exercises the heart and lungs in addition to all major
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
The American Heart Association says that not only should people engage in regular exercise to
prevent and treat heart disease, but the activity they engage in should be aerobic and at a moderate
to vigorous level of intensity.
That can seem daunting to someone who may be new to working out or who has previously struggled
with maintaining a regular routine.
But there is a solution.
High intensity interval training alternates short bouts of intense exercise with longer rounds of recovery.
It’s enough to keep the body guessing, torch fat and improve cardiovascular health—but without causing
complete burnout or overwhelm.
This method is so much more effective than steady-state exercising, in fact, that participants can see
marked results in just 20 to 30 minutes, a few times per week.
In addition to burning calories up to 48 hours following a workout, HIIT programs are also effective in
increasing maximum aerobic activity, or how well the body uses oxygen for energy.
This is arguably one of the most important measurements of cardiovascular health, and HIIT workouts
do a great job of ramping up those numbers.
When it comes to getting heart-healthy exercise—especially the “vigorous” kind that the American
Heart Association recommends—it doesn’t seem as though yoga would fit the bill.
After all, no one would mistake a downward facing dog or tree pose as particularly intense.
It turns out, however, that yoga is still quite beneficial for establishing and maintaining heart health.
M. Mala Cunningham, PhD, is a psychologist and founder of the Cardiac Yoga program designed to
treat heart patients.
She says that a regular yoga practice can lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, while improving
physical performance and making it easier to engage in more intense athletic activity.
It can also help relieve stress in those who have already faced cardiac arrest or a heart attack.
“Yoga is designed to bring about increased
physical, mental and emotional well-being,”
Cunningham said in an interview with the
American Heart Association.
“Hand in hand with leading a heart-healthy lifestyle,
it really is possible for a yoga-based model to help
prevent or reverse heart disease.”
About the Author
Jennifer McGregor is a pre-med student and health improvement nerd. She and a friend developed PublicHealthLibrary.org for a college class. Jennifer’s goal is to turn it into a go-to resource for reliable health information on the Web. When she isn’t working on the site, Jennifer is usually studying or relaxing with her adorable rescue mutt, Sam.
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