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Top 4 exercises to boost heart health

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What's the best exercise prescription for optimal heart health? Personal trainer and author of Healthy Heart for Life Andrew Cate reveal his 4 favourite exercises.

Exercise and your heart

Like all muscles, the heart becomes stronger from regular exercise, helping it to deliver blood more efficiently throughout the body. Research published in the International Journal of Aquatic Research and Education described the many benefits to your heart from regular physical activity, including:
  • Reduced total cholesterol
  • Lowering of LDL (bad) cholesterol
  • Increased HDL (good) cholesterol
  • Decreased risk of high blood pressure
  • Improved weight management
  • A lower resting heart rate
  • Improved management of stress
Adults are recommended to perform thirty minutes of moderate-intensity exercise at least 5 days a week, or at least 20 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity 3 days a week to derive health benefits.  

While it's likely your heart will benefit from any form of activity, there may be specific exercises that are more beneficial than others.

READ MORE: Eat your way to healthier cholesterol

Here are my top 4 heart friendly exercises which can all find a place in your health and fitness routine.

1. Walking

Walking is ideal for all ages and levels of fitness. The minimal impact makes it ideal for beginners, people who are overweight, and those with injuries or joint pain.

Because walking is gentle and easy to do, it's also ideal for people with existing heart health issues such as high cholesterol levels or raised blood pressure.

As fitness levels improve over time, you can wear a weighted vest, go for long bush walks, or seek out hills and stairs to make walking more challenging. Short bouts of walking can also help to accumulate more movement throughout the day, and compensate for the ill effects of inactivity.

2. Running

There are few quicker paths to fitness and better health than regular running. It's been shown to help reduce body fat levels, improve measures of cardiovascular fitness such as treadmill duration tests, and reduce the risk of chronic diseases.

Running requires minimal equipment or expense, and the difficulty level can be easily modified by adjusting your speed and duration.

Change things around regularly by running to different locations, on different days of the week, and at different times of the day.

Aim to alternate between training runs and other lower impact activities like swimming to reduce the load on your body.

3. Swimming

Swimming, a great all-body workout, it works the heart, muscles and lungs. The water offers resistance, but also cushions the body, making it a suitable activity for almost anyone.

You can perform different swim strokes for variety, as well as deep water running and aqua aerobics.

Research on more than 45,000 adult men and women suggests that swimming promotes healthy levels of cholesterol, in addition to cardio respiratory fitness, flexibility, body composition, and quality of life.

Swimming was also found to have health benefits similar to running, and was generally more beneficial than walking or a sedentary lifestyle.

4. Tai Chi

While only of a moderate in intensity, Tai Chi as an exercise offers significant benefits to your health and wellbeing.

Sometimes referred to as "meditation in slow motion", it's a type of martial art that focuses on slow, controlled movements and deep, measured breathing. Often performed outdoors, it's thought to help maintain strength, flexibility, and balance; while the focus on slow rhythmic movements can distract your mind from other stress and worries, helping to alleviate tension.

It won't elevate the heart rate enough to be the only form of exercise you undertake for cardiovascular health, but it can be an important piece of the puzzle.

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An important note

If you have an existing heart condition, such as high blood cholesterol or high blood pressure, it's important to check with your doctor before commencing a new program of exercise.