Understanding just how physical activity benefits your heart can be strong motivation to get moving more. Here’s what to know.
1. Exercise lowers blood pressure.
Exercise works like beta-blocker medication to slow the heart rate and lower blood pressure (at rest and also when exercising). High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease.
2. Exercise is key to weight control.
Especially when combined with a smart diet, being physically active is an essential component for losing weight and even more important for keeping it off, Stewart says—which in turn helps optimize heart health. Being overweight puts stress on the heart and is a risk factor for heart disease and stroke.
3. Exercise helps strengthen muscles.
A combination of aerobic workouts (which, depending on your fitness level, can include walking, running, swimming, and other vigorous heart-pumping exercise) and strength training (weight lifting, resistance training) is considered best for heart health. These exercises improve the muscles’ ability to draw oxygen from the circulating blood. That reduces the need for the heart—a muscular organ itself—to work harder to pump more blood to the muscles, whatever your age.
4. Exercise can help you quit smoking.
As smokers become more fit, they often quit. And people who are fit in the first place are less likely to ever start smoking, which is one of the top risk factors for heart disease because it damages the structure and function of blood vessels.
5. Exercise can stop or slow the development of diabetes.
Researchers has shown that when combined with strength training, regular aerobic exercise such as cycling, brisk walking, or swimming can reduce the risk of developing diabetes by over 50% by allowing the muscles to better process glycogen, a fuel for energy, which when impaired, leads to excessive blood sugars, and thus diabetes.
6. Exercise lowers stress.
Stress hormones can put an extra burden on the heart. Exercise—whether aerobic (like running), resistance-oriented (like weight training) or flexibility-focused (like yoga)—can help you relax and ease stress.
7. Exercise reduces inflammation.
With regular exercise, chronic inflamation is reduced as the body adapts to the challenge of exercise on many bodily systems. This is an important factor for reducing the adverse effects of many of the diseases