Aerobic exercises to keep your heart healthy
February is considered the month of love, and each year the British Heart Foundation declares the month National Heart Month in the UK to raise awareness on heart health.
With heart and circulatory diseases causing a quarter of all deaths in the UK, there’s no better time to think about how to support your own heart health. Lifestyle plays an important role, and in many cases, cardiovascular disease (CVD) can be avoided or improved through changes to everyday habits, including diet, exercise and stress management.
According to John Hopkins Medical Centre, there are three types of exercise we should be looking to include in our fitness regime to keep our heart healthy:
- Aerobic Exercise
- Resistance Training (Strength Work)
- Stretching, Flexibility and Balance
In this article, we look at how anyone can include aerobic exercise into their routine.
Probably the type of exercise typically linked to a healthy heart is aerobic exercise. This type of exercise works your heart and lungs by making you breathe faster and more deeply. It gets your blood moving, improving circulation, which in turn prevents blood clots, reducing the risk of a heart attack or stroke. Regular aerobic exercise can reduce blood pressure.
According to Professor Peter Weissberg, medical director at the British Heart Foundation:
‘When you exercise, your heart muscle gets a really good workout so it becomes more efficient and doesn’t have to work as hard. This reduces the pressure or strain on the walls of the arteries, which can help to prevent a heart attack.’
Even if exercise is not something you’re naturally drawn to, it’s really important for our overall health and wellbeing and there is a cardio exercise suitable for everyone, we’re confident that there will be something from this list that will take your fancy.
Swimming is a low impact activity and is great for improving cardiovascular fitness and muscle strength. It is a great choice for anyone who has mobility issues, osteoarthritis or arthritis since the water will support 90% of your body weight, reducing strain on joints.
30 minutes of swimming a day can reduce coronary heart disease in women by 30 to 40 percent with studies showing that swimming also raises “good” cholesterol HDL levels.
Even if you find swimming difficult, other water-based activities such as water aerobics are a great cardio workout while still benefiting from the support of the water.
A 2020 study explored the long-term effects of regular, water-based aerobic exercise on cardiovascular health and showed them to be as effective as other types of aerobic exercise for lowering cardiovascular disease risk for older people.
Cycling is another great form of aerobic exercise that can be done outdoors, in the gym or at home on a stationary bike. If you choose to cycle outside then consider whether you can start to include it in a regular routine such as cycling to work, the shops or when visiting a friend. Researchers at the University of Glasgow found cycling cut the risk of developing heart disease by almost 50 percent.
If indoor cycling is more your thing you could take a leisurely cycle on a static bike at the gym, or if you’re feeling energetic, indoor spin classes are a high-intensity workout option for those who are looking for a challenge with less stress on the joints than an alternative like running would have.
Running, jogging or walking
Running is another good aerobic exercise that increases cardiovascular fitness levels by increasing heart rate, respiration and delivering oxygenated blood around the body. It can have a higher impact on joints – a running coach will help you get your technique right to minimise this.
Alternatively, not much can beat walking as one of the easiest ways to increase your physical activity and improve your health and can still be an excellent type of cardio activity as long as you walk at a pace and intensity that increases the demands on your heart, lungs, and muscles.
According to the NHS, even 10 minutes of brisk walking a day will have health benefits. A consistent exercise routine that you can stick to will be more effective than jumping into a high impact workout that you cannot maintain on a regular basis.
Not only do martial arts like Taekwondo, Judo and Boxing strengthen the entire body by training all essential muscle groups, they are also another form of cardiovascular exercise that can improve fitness and heart health.
If you’re not quite ready for the intensity of full-on martial arts, Tai chi and Qi Gong are great forms of exercise that focus on balance, flexibility and body control, being low-impact and a form of mindful movement that can reduce stress and increase flexibility.
Although there hasn’t been a huge amount of research into the specific benefits of these gentle martial arts on CVD, a review of studies found that most report health improvements with tai chi, including blood pressure reductions and increases in exercise capacity.
Like running or an elliptical machine session, rowing is a full-body workout with benefits including improving muscle strength and endurance, lowering body fat levels while also strengthening the heart. The combination of the aerobic and strength aspects make it a great choice for increasing strength as well as fitness, particularly strengthening the upper back and counteracting any hunching over computers and devices.
In a study on rowing, researchers saw an improvement in all of the variables of the stroke survivors that participated in a 12-week rowing training.
Related: Why is good posture important?
Badminton, tennis and squash are all great racquet sports that offer similar benefits to other forms of cardiovascular exercise. They can all increase energy expenditure while also improving coordination skills.
Participation in racquet sports (including badminton, tennis and squash) showed a significant risk reduction of 47% in all-cause mortality and 59% reduction in CVD mortality according to a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. It also purported that the social aspect of racquet sports did better in supporting healthy living than other types of sports.
Group fitness classes
Group exercise classes are a great way of increasing cardiovascular fitness levels without having to brave the changeable British weather (unless you choose an outdoor class!). Most health clubs and gyms offer a variety of group classes on their timetable, such as circuits, pilates, yoga and Zumba which can all improve muscle strength while also being a lot of fun.
Exercising with a friend can really help to keep your motivation on track and make it an enjoyable part of your routine. Why not try some new classes with a friend and see what you enjoy and make a habit of it?
Understanding your heart health
Before you start with any new exercise routine, it’s good to get an idea of where your health is at right now. A consultation with your GP or private health assessment will help you to feel confident that you are ready to get started.
Our Health MOTs include heart health markers and give you insight into where your health is at right now and what changes you may like to consider making.
To find out more about our Health Assessments, see our Health MOT packages.