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Follow Your Heart (1)

Follow Your Heart – Exercise and Cardiovascular Health

The Best Way to Strengthen Your Heart is to Exercise

Did you know that every type of exercise doesn’t have the same benefits? This concept may be obvious in some ways. Winter Olympic downhill skiers clearly have different strengths than summer Olympic swimmers! But did you know that based on your health needs you might want to focus on a certain type of exercise? For diabetics, a certain time of day might be important to exercise routine. For those trying to recover from a knee injury, strengthening leg or back muscles might be important. Similarly, there are certain types of exercise that can affect heart health and even lower the risk of heart disease. For example, new research suggests that low intermittent exercise might be the best strategy for someone struggling with arterial stiffness.

But first let’s start with definitions. Arterial stiffness is when someone’s larger arteries become physically stiff inside their bodies. This stiffening happens with natural aging, but it is also often associated with many of the leading causes of heart disease and morbidity worldwide. Physicians can often tell someone has arterial stiffness if they have higher blood pressure or heart rate.

But what does “low intermittent exercise” look like? First, let’s look at intensity. In exercise terms, moderate intensity is when a person notices they are beginning to breathe harder while exercising. Low intensity exercise would then mean someone is not noticing a change in their breathing patterns while exercising. Intermittent exercise refers to the pattern of working out or taking a break in cycles. A person exercising intermittently would be stopping and starting. In the research study, one group of young men rode stationary bicycles, alternating between 5 minutes of riding and 5 minutes of resting for 35 minutes. The men in this group experienced the greatest reduction in arterial stiffness compared to other participants who rode at the same intensity for longer amounts of time.

Exercise has many positive effects on heart health. A regular exercise routine can help:

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Lessen risk of developing diabetes
  • Maintain healthy body weight
  • Reduce inflammation throughout the body

If your goal is better heart health, talk to your doctor about specific exercise strategies that are best for you. Working out longer isn’t always the best strategy for trying to be more heart healthy. You might just need to walk around your building at work for 5 minutes a few times a day. But knowing your heart rate and blood pressure could help you personalize your workout goals for your specific health needs.

Additional benefits of exercise:

Improves the muscles’ ability to pull oxygen out of the blood, reducing the need for the heart to pump more blood to the muscles

Reduces stress hormones that can put an extra burden on the heart

Works like a beta blocker to slow the heart rate and lower blood pressure

Increases high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or “good” cholesterol and helps control triglycerides

While exercise has benefits in and of itself, the best way to prevent heart disease is to combine exercise with a healthy diet. Exercise alone can help with weight loss over a long period of time. But a short-term approach is to reduce the number of calories you take in through diet, while increasing the calories you use through exercise.


Acute effects of low-volume intermittent versus higher-volume continuous exercise on arterial
stiffness in healthy young men

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