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Exercises for Heart Health

2 months ago / by Ahad Sanwari
heart
Image credit: Shutterstock

About 20.1 million adults in the U.S., age 20 and older, have coronary artery disease (CAD), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Annually, approximately 805,000 people nationwide suffer heart attacks. In 2020, 18.9 percent of such deaths were of Asian descent.

Being of South Asian descent puts you at a higher risk of cardiovascular diseases and conditions. According to the Stanford South Asian Translational Heart Initiative, the chances of dying from heart attacks is 40 percent higher among South Asians than in the population at large. Certain heart diseases, such as carotid artery disease, CAD, insulin resistance, and peripheral artery disease, have seem to affect this ethnic group harder.

One way to address this in South Asian populations is to have a holistic wellness plan that includes appropriate nutrition, quality sleep, and sufficient exercise. A lot of people find it easy to get the first two right. But when it comes to exercise, it is possible to be confused on what to do and for how long.

How It Can Help

Physical activity can help control or reduce some risk factors for heart disease. It boosts the ability of the muscles to extract oxygen out of the blood. This cuts down on the need for the heart to pump excess blood to the muscles. Exercising also reduces the production of stress hormones that could end up overburdening your heart.

Working out on a regular basis can act like a beta blocker that slows the heart rate and brings down your blood pressure. Since the heart is a muscle, an active lifestyle can make it healthier and stronger.

Types of Exercise

The best exercises to pursue optimal hearth health benefits are aerobic exercise, strength or resistance training, and stretching. The American Heart Association and the American College of Sports Medicine recommend a combination of these categories of exercises to prevent and manage heart disease. Here’s what each of these have to offer:

  • Aerobic exercise – Aerobics can get your heart pumping and this is what the doctors mean when they ask you to pursue moderate activity. Running swimming, brisk walking and cycling all fall under this category as do playing tennis and jumping rope. These activities can enhance circulation, leading to lower blood pressure and heart rate. You should pursue aerobic exercises for at least a half hour every day, for a minimum of five days a week.  If you are worried about taking it too far, just try this simple test – try talking to someone when doing it and if you are able to do so, you are moving just the right amount.
  • Strength or resistance training – This is a good choice if you have a lot of body fat, especially on the belly. Resistance training can help burn the fat and substitute it with leaner muscle mass. You could use dumbbells, barbells, or other types of free weights. Resistance bands, yoga, push-ups, squats, and chin-ups are all options. Do these exercises on alternate days of the week so that your body has sufficient time to rest in between sessions.
  • Stretching – While stretching might not directly impact your heart health, it is essential for musculoskeletal well-being. Musculoskeletal health gives you flexibility and freedom from disorders such as joint pain and cramps. Only when you have flexibility will you be able to pursue resistance training and aerobics. Ta chi and yoga can help here and enhance your balance too. You should do stretching exercises daily and also before and after workout sessions.

Keep it Interesting

Come up with your own combination of these three categories of exercises to meet the recommended 150 minutes of heart-pumping activity for each week. Once you have eased into a routine, you could take it up a notch with small challenges thrown in here and there. For example, aim to swim a specific number of laps within a particular time frame. Add some fun to your workout with a bit of Zumba or aerobic dancing for a few minutes.

Tracking Your Heart Rate

While the aim of these exercises is to get the heart moving, it is also essential to know if you are doing too much or too little. Your heart rate is the best indicator here. The resting heart rate for most adults is between 60 and 100 beats per minute (bpm). The recommended target heart rate when pursuing moderate intensity activities is around 50 to 70 percent of the maximum bpm.

During vigorous physical activity, the heart rate can be 70 to 85 percent of your normal resting rate. For instance, for a 20-year-old, the bpm could be from 100-170 with a maximum of 200. Similarly, the target rate for a 50-year-old would be 85 – 145 bpm and so on.

Remember to check in with your primary care physician before you embark on your new fitness routine!