Did you know that simply being male is a risk factor for heart disease? The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) lists male gender—as well as age (men over age 40)—among the top factors that make it more likely that a person will develop coronary heart disease. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identifies heart disease as the leading men’s health threat in the United States—ahead of cancer, stroke, and diabetes.
In response to these statistics, the Mayo Clinic emphasizes that men (and women) can take charge of their heart health through healthier lifestyle choices, including exercise and maintaining a healthy weight. JAMA notes that one of the primary forms of prevention of heart disease is physical activity. By exercising just 30 minutes per day, five days per week, you can significantly lower your heart disease risk, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).
But what kinds of exercise are the best for your heart? All adults, whether male or female, can benefit from a variety of types of regular exercise. The journal Circulation notes that a sedentary lifestyle is another risk factor for cardiovascular disease. While you can’t change the risk factor of being a male of a certain age, many studies have shown that replacing a sedentary lifestyle with a more active one decreases your chance of:
- having a heart attack
- experiencing another cardiac event if you’ve previously had one
- needing bypass surgery or other coronary revascularization procedure
Benefits of Aerobic Exercise
One of the best types of exercise for your heart—regardless of gender, age, or weight—is aerobic exercise. The Mayo Clinic explains that 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 all help to keep your heart healthy? There are many benefits of regular aerobic exercise on several of the established risk factors for cardiovascular disease. For one thing, it strengthens your heart. When your heart is stronger, it doesn’t need to beat as fast. 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 “bad” (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol levels in the blood, while elevating the “good” (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol levels. The result can be less buildup of plaque in your arteries. In total, the effect of continued, moderate exercise on overall cardiovascular risk—particularly when combined with other lifestyle modifications—can be dramatic.
Types of Aerobic Exercise
There are a number of different ways that men can safely and effectively get aerobic exercise. Below are some aerobic activities that are recommended by the AHA, all of which offer the full range of benefits to your heart described above.
Remember to keep in mind the AHA Guidelines, which suggest aiming for 30 minutes per day, five days per week. Your workouts can also be split into more frequent but shorter sessions of 10 to 15 minutes each, aiming for a weekly total of 150 minutes of moderate exercise.
The Mayo Clinic recommends walking as a low-impact exercise that’s safely accessible to adults of most fitness levels. Believe it or not, research shows that regular, brisk walking can reduce your risk of heart attack by the same amount as more vigorous types of exercise.
Even though walking is a gentle activity, it’s important to spend about five minutes walking slowly to warm up your muscles before increasing your pace. Walk only as far or fast as you find comfortable, and stop exercising if you experience any cardiovascular symptoms, such as increased shortness of breath, chest pain, or dizziness.
According to Harvard Medical School, more vigorous activities can do even more for the heart than walking can. Harvard cites a study that compared various measures of cardiovascular health—such as blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and maximum energy output—across nearly 46,000 male and female swimmers, as well as walkers, runners, and sedentary people. Swimmers were among those with the best numbers.
Another study conducted on over 40,000 men comparing deaths in these same types of athletes found that over an average of 13 years of follow-up, only 2 percent of the swimmers died, compared with 8 percent of runners, 9 percent of walkers, and 11 percent of inactive people.
Swimming offers a great workout for the heart and lungs that also trains the body to use oxygen more efficiently, generally leading to declines in resting heart rate and breathing rate. Harvard recommends easing slowly into swimming, especially if you’re a little rusty. Begin with five to 10 minutes of easy laps, and add different strokes only after increasing your comfort level in the water.
If you’re not big on the water but you’re looking for an aerobic challenge, consider biking. Harvard Medical School reports on a study of more than 800 men that linked regular biking with a 29 percent reduction in death rate due to cardiac arrest compared with sedentary people. Harvard notes that the cardiovascular effects of bicycling are similar to those of running—meaning you get a lot of bang for your biking buck.
If you’re new to biking or haven’t ridden in a while, you might try stationary biking at the gym as a first step. Stationary biking provides the same heart-health benefits as outdoor biking, and also provides a safer ride that you can do without a helmet or other equipment. You can also easily moderate the intensity of your workout to reflect your current fitness level.
In addition to aerobic exercise, don’t forget to include some strengthening and stretching exercises in your routine, which can help improve men’s overall stamina and flexibility. By giving your heart an all-around workout, you’ll set yourself on track for a healthier future.