The Best Exercises for Heart Health

The Best Exercises for Heart Health

Healthline |
29 March 2017

Getting regular physical activity is one of the most important things you can do for your heart. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), any type of exercise that makes your muscles work harder than usual is beneficial.

But to give your heart the best workout possible, it’s smart to include different types of exercise. Let’s explore how to create a well-rounded healthy-heart workout that you can make part of your lifestyle.

Fitness Guidelines
The AHA recommends that all adults get no less than 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity at least five days a week, for optimum heart health. Additionally, AHA’s guidelines include strength-training workouts at a moderate to high intensity at least two days a week. Plus, the AHA notes that stretching exercises are also important, in conjunction with cardio and strength training, to improve both flexibility and stamina.

  • Aerobic exercise includes activities that get your heart pumping, like swimming, biking, brisk walking, jogging, hiking, and skating. Aerobic classes, such as dance fitness and step classes, are good choices, too.
  • Muscle-strengthening exercises include pushups, crunches, and squats, which build muscle by using your own body weight as resistance. Lifting weights at the gym is another form of strength training.
  • Stretching workouts include yoga, Pilates, and Tai Chi. These activities may also have a strengthening component. Many dance classes incorporate stretching and aerobics.

Try These Exercises
There are many different exercises that can give you cardio, strengthening, and stretching benefits. Get creative to avoid feeling stuck in a rut with the same types of exercise. Remember, if you have a medical condition or if you have been inactive for a long time, it’s wise to speak to a doctor before beginning a new exercise program.

When you’re ready to get started, here are some examples of each type of exercise:

For Cardio:
Mountain Climber:

  • Begin in a “plank” position, with your hands flat on the floor and elbows straight. Your shoulders, elbows, and wrists should all be in alignment. Stretch your legs out behind you and balance on your toes, as though you were about to do a pushup.
  • Set your right foot slightly to the right. Bend your left knee into your body and set your left foot beneath your torso, balancing on your toes. The ball of your left foot should be ready to spring off the floor, as though you are about sprint in a diagonal direction.
  • Push off the floor with your legs. Keep your hips lifted high and core muscles tight.
  • Switch feet, so that you land with your left leg stretched out slightly to the left and your right knee bent, balancing on your right toes. Each right-left leg pair completed is one rep. Aim to complete 15 to 20 reps.

Man doing mountain climber

Squat Cross Crunch:

  • Begin by standing with your hands behind your head. Your feet should be hip-width distance apart, toes forward.
  • Slowly lower your body into a squatting position, taking care to keep your spine long and ensure your knees never extend beyond your toes. Then rise up, while at the same time bending and lifting your left knee across your body, in the direction of your right shoulder.
  • Twist your body such that your right shoulder approaches the knee that is lifted. Be sure to keep your elbows out to the sides as you turn your body.
  • Bring your left foot back to the starting position. Repeat the exercise on the other side of your body to complete the first rep.
  • Do 15 reps total, alternating legs, or whatever is comfortable for you.  

Man doing squat cross crunch

For Strength training:
Walking lunges:

  • Stand straight with your feet touching each other, hands at your hips.
  • Then walk forward with your right leg while lowering your hips downward. Bend your knees to about 90-degree angles—but keep your back knee from touching the floor. Take care to ensure that your front knee does not extend beyond your toes.  
  • Push off to bring your body forward, back to a standing position, arms at your side.
  • Repeat with your left leg to complete one rep. Aim for two sets of 10 reps.
  • If you have limited space, you can switch-off lunging forward and backward instead of continuing forward.

Man doing walking lunges

For A Relaxing Stretch:
Child’s pose:

  • Begin on all fours on the floor. Sit back on or between your heels as you move your hands forward, rounding your back as you draw your torso toward the floor. Keep your head relaxed; you can rest your forehead on the floor. Keep your arms stretched straight in front of you, hands resting flat on the floor comfortably.
  • If you like, inch your hands forward on the floor to deepen the stretch. You can also try shifting your weight to one side as you move your hands in the opposite direction; this will give you a deeper stretch along your sides. Relax, breathe deeply, and hold this pose for at least 30 seconds.

Man doing child's pose

HealthAhead Hint: Mix It Up
Since the AHA recommends a mix of cardio, strength training, and stretching each week, it’s important to understand which activities fall into each category—and to practice these types of exercises regularly. Remember to try out different aerobic activities that work your arms and legs, strength-training activities that build muscle and stamina, and stress-relieving stretches to improve your flexibility.