Did you know that simply being male is a risk factor for heart disease? The American Heart Association (AHA) lists “male sex” among the top risk factors for coronary heart disease. Men over the age of 40 are at high risk.
A sedentary lifestyle is another major risk factor for cardiovascular disease. You can’t change your gender or age, but you can change your lifestyle. Replacing a sedentary lifestyle with more active habits can lower your chances of:
- having a heart attack
- experiencing another cardiac event if you’ve previously had one
- needing bypass surgery or other coronary revascularization procedures
Take charge of your heart health by adopting a healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise. By staying active just 30 minutes per day, five days per week, you can significantly lower your risk of heart disease, according to the AHA.
What kinds of exercise are best for your heart? While strengthening and flexibility exercises are key for overall health, aerobic exercises are key to heart health. Aerobic exercises get your heart rate up and keep it up for a prolonged period. All adults, whether male or female, can benefit from aerobic exercise.
One of the best types of exercise for your heart — regardless of your sex, age, or weight — is aerobic exercise. Aerobic activity affects your heart, lungs, and blood flow in the following ways:
- You breathe faster and more deeply, maximizing the amount of oxygen in your blood.
- Your heart beats faster, increasing blood flow to your muscles and back to your lungs.
- Your capillaries widen to deliver more oxygen to your muscles.
How does this help your heart? For one thing, it strengthens your heart and causes adaptations in your muscles. When your heart is stronger and your muscles are more fit, your heart doesn’t need to beat as fast at rest. It also pumps blood more efficiently, improving blood flow throughout your entire body.
Aerobic exercise can also help you lose and maintain weight, as well as reduce your blood pressure. It can help keep your arteries clear by reducing levels of “bad” cholesterol , or low-density lipoprotein, in your blood. It also helps elevate levels of “good” cholesterol, or high-density lipoprotein. This can lead to less plaque buildup in your arteries.
In total, the effect of regular moderate exercise on your overall cardiovascular risk can be dramatic.
The AHA encourages men to get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise per week. You can break this activity into five 30-minute sessions. Or you can exercise more frequently in shorter sessions of 10 to 15 minutes.
You can participate in a variety of activities to reach your aerobic exercise goals. For example, the AHA recommends walking, swimming, or biking. These activities offer the full range of benefits to your heart described above. The most important thing is to pick something that you like to do, so you will stick with it.
Walking is a low-impact exercise that’s safely accessible to adults of most fitness levels. Regular, brisk walking can lower your risk of heart attack. It can also lower your chances of developing other chronic health conditions.
Even though walking is a gentle activity, it’s still important to warm-up. Spend the first five minutes walking slowly to warm up your muscles before you increase your pace. Walk only as far and fast as you can comfortably. Stop exercising if you experience any cardiovascular symptoms, such as chest pain or dizziness.
According to Harvard Medical School, more vigorous activities can do even more for your heart than walking. When researchers compared measures of cardiovascular health among nearly 46,000 men and women, those who swam or ran regularly came out on top. The study examined participants’ blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and energy output. It found a benefit in all of these parameters.
In another study of more than 40,000 men, researchers compared death rates among walkers, runners, swimmers, and sedentary people. Over an average follow-up period of 13 years, only 2 percent of the swimmers died. In comparison, 8 percent of the runners, 9 percent of the walkers, and 11 percent of the inactive people passed away.
Swimming offers a great workout for your heart and lungs. It also trains you body to use oxygen more efficiently. This can help lower your resting heart rate and breathing rate.
If you decide to introduce swimming to your routine, start slowly. Begin each session with 5 to 10 minutes of slow swimming to warm up. Gradually increase the number of laps you swim. As your comfort and fitness levels grow, you can add different strokes and increase your speed. If you aren’t a strong swimmer, many pools offer lessons to help adults develop their skills.
If you’re not big on water but you’re looking for an aerobic challenge, consider biking. According to Harvard Medical School, a study of more than 800 men linked regular biking to a 29 percent reduction in death rate due to cardiac arrest. The cardiovascular benefits of bicycling are similar to those of running, which means you get a lot of bang for your buck.
If you’re new to biking or haven’t cycled in a while, try riding a stationary bike at your gym to start. Stationary biking provides the same heart-health benefits as outdoor biking, while offering a safer environment for developing your skills. You can also moderate the intensity of your workout to reflect your current fitness level.
Regular moderate aerobic exercise can help you lose excess weight, while strengthening your heart and lungs. You can try a variety of activities, such as walking, swimming, or biking. If you prefer sports, consider scheduling regular basketball, tennis, or squash games in your calendar. Even pushing your lawn mower around the yard can give you a cardiovascular workout. If you choose to do more strenuous exercises, be sure to check with your doctor before starting.
In addition to aerobic exercise, you should also include strengthening and stretching exercises in your routine. This can help improve your overall stamina, strength, and flexibility. By giving your heart and body an all-around workout, you can improve your chances of a healthier future.