Are you a fan of HBO or Showtime? If so, you may have seen a couple of fairly recent TV show episodes in which leading characters suffered heart attacks while riding stationary bikes. And like many, you may have wondered why these characters had cardiac events while spinning if exercise is supposed to be great for your heart. Perhaps more importantly, you may also be wondering if you’re at risk of suffering an exercise-related heart attack, too.
First and foremost, let’s set the record straight: Regular physical activity is one of the best gifts you can possibly give your heart. But how exactly does exercise help your heart? And is there any chance it may increase your risk of experiencing a cardiac event? Read on to find out.
How Does Exercise Benefit Your Heart?
Did you know heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States? Or that, according to medical experts, roughly 90% of all heart disease cases worldwide could be prevented with lifestyle, exercise, and diet modifications?
According to an article published in the Journal of Exercise and Cardiovascular Research, regular, moderate-intensity exercise can reduce your long-term risk for several cardiovascular risk factors by:
- Reducing your blood pressure
- Improving your exercise tolerance/capacity
- Helping you maintain a healthy weight
- Increasing your good (HDL) cholesterol levels
- Decreasing your bad (LDL) cholesterol levels
But how exactly does exercise do all that? Let’s take a look.
1. Exercise Improves Muscular Function and Oxygen Uptake
When you engage in exercise regularly, you not only improve your muscular function and strength but also your muscles' ability to uptake oxygen from your blood. As your body adapts to exercise, it becomes more efficient at transporting and using oxygen. And, as your body’s ability to use oxygen increases, so does your exercise tolerance/capacity, which can help you perform both daily activities and exercise with less fatigue.
2. Regular Exercise Makes Your Heart Stronger
Your heart is a muscle, and just like regular exercise strengthens the muscles you use to walk, jog, bike, swim, or lift weights, it also strengthens your heart. A stronger heart can pump more blood throughout your body with less effort, reducing strain on your arteries. When there’s less force on your arteries, your blood pressure naturally decreases.
Building a stronger heart can also help reduce a high resting heart rate, which is positively associated with both cardiovascular and all-cause mortality. When your heart is strong, it can pump more blood throughout your body with each beat, so it’ll beat fewer times per minute to deliver oxygen and nutrients to your tissues.
3. Exercise Improves Cholesterol Levels
When you exercise, your body produces enzymes that help transport LDL (the bad cholesterol) from your blood to your liver. Your liver then converts some of that LDL to bile for digestion and expels what it doesn’t need. The more you exercise, the more of these enzymes your body produces, and the more LDL it gets rid of.
Research also suggests that exercise can alter the size of your LDL particles, making them larger. Smaller, denser LDL particles are associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, while larger, less dense LDL particles do not pose the same risk.
During exercise, your body also releases enzymes that produce HDL (the good kind of cholesterol), and the more you exercise, the more HDL you produce. Since HDL removes excess cholesterol from your blood and plaque buildup from your arteries, higher HDL levels can help reduce your risk of heart disease.
4. Maintaining a Healthy Weight Can Improve Heart Health
The larger your body is, the more blood it needs to function. So if you’re currently overweight, your heart must work harder to pump more blood throughout your body, which puts quite a bit of pressure on your arteries. Losing weight via regular exercise and dietary changes will reduce the amount of blood your body needs to function, thereby reducing stress on your heart and arteries.
5. Can Exercise Increase Your Risk for Heart Attack?
Regular, moderate-intensity exercise is excellent for your heart, but if you’re new to working out, start slow. Building your exercise capacity gradually over time allows your heart to adapt to more intense physical activity, which is exactly what you’re looking to achieve.
If you have an underlying cardiovascular condition, however, bouts of high-intensity physical activity can increase your risk of sudden heart attack. Keep in mind that high-intensity refers to exercise that keeps your heart rate at or above 75% of your max heart rate for 10 or more minutes.
If you’re unsure what’s safe for you, talk with your doctor. As always, you should consult with your physician before beginning a new exercise regimen.
6. How Much Exercise Should You Get to Improve Heart Health?
According to the American Heart Association, you’ll need to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity weekly. Ideally — and if your doctor okays it — you should get a combination of both and spread your activity throughout the week.
Not sure you can stick with a heart-healthy exercise regimen? A personal trainer can help. Not only can an expert design a training plan that’s safe for your current condition, but they can also teach you how to properly perform each exercise to reduce your risk of injury. Perhaps more importantly, a trainer can hold you accountable to your goals, so you’ll always have someone in your corner cheering you on.
Get a Free Personal Training Consultation at Envision Fitness
Are you ready to become a fitter, healthier, and happier you? Our team at Envision Fitness would love to help you achieve your health and fitness goals! At our Hopkins, MN gym, we’re committed to empowering you to change the trajectory of your life. We offer individualized personal training, nutrition coaching, weight loss fitness classes, group exercise classes, and athletic performance training, as well as free consultations to get you started.
Ready to join us? Then go ahead and request a free consultation online or give us a call at 952-444-2791 to learn more about how we can help you. We look forward to hearing from you!