Have you ever felt a surge of energy, positive vibes, or even an overall sense of well-being and contentedness after a good workout? Or, have you come up with your best ideas and inspiration while exercising? That’s because exercise delivers oxygen to the brain and releases chemicals in the body that gives the brain a boost while reducing stress and anxiety. It’s like a mental health session without all the talking!
Exercise does the same thing for the heart. Exercise induces a long list of physiological changes in the body that keep the heart functioning optimally. In fact, regular exercise is one of the easiest and fastest ways you can benefit your heart naturally:
Reduces blood pressure. Exercise encourages the heart’s arteries to dilate more readily, allowing for better blood flow to the body. Over time, exercise helps to slow the heart rate and lower blood pressure, both at rest and while exercising.
Improve cholesterol levels. Moderate physical activity can raise “good” cholesterol (HDL) and flush out the “bad” cholesterol (LDL). It also helps to shed extra pounds, which can contribute to high cholesterol levels.
Assists in weight control. Being overweight puts added stress on your heart, which can increase the risk for heart disease and stroke.
Strengthens the heart muscle. Exercise helps the heart muscle become more efficient at pumping blood throughout the body. This means that with each beat, the heart can push more blood throughout the body, allowing it to beat slower and keep blood pressure under control.
Stops or slows the development of Type 2 diabetes. Research has shown that regular cardiovascular exercise such as walking, running, cycling, or swimming can reduce the risk of developing diabetes by over 50% by allowing muscles to better process glycogen (a fuel used by the body for energy) which, when impaired, leads to excessive blood sugar levels and consequently, diabetes.
Reduces stress. Chronic stress can be very damaging to the heart. Aerobic exercise, strength training, and flexibility training such as Yoga can all help you relax and ease stress.
Reduces inflammation. Inflammation in the body can contribute to many different ailments and diseases, including heart disease. Inflammation is reduced as the body adapts to the challenge of exercise on many bodily systems.
Improves sleep. Muscles, organs, and systems in the body rest and repair during sleep, including the heart. Adequate sleep is vital for the heart to function at its best. Regular exercise not only helps to tire us out by burning energy, but it also balances hormones and other chemicals in the body that promote a good sleep/wake cycle.
With all of these benefits, it’s no wonder why exercise is therapy for your heart! The good news is it’s easier than you think to reap the benefits. Studies have shown that even light to moderate exercise can result in greater health benefits because people are more likely to stick with it than rigorous exercise. A good goal is to aim for 30 minutes of exercise on most days, which can be broken down into two 15-minute or three 10-minute segments. If you’re unsure about the intensity of your exercise, try the talk/sing test: if you can’t talk while you exercise, you’re working too hard. If you can sing, you need to work harder.
This month, schedule some heart therapy by adding more exercise to your daily routine.* Your heart (and your doctor) will thank you!
*If you’re at risk for heart disease or have high blood pressure, always consult with your physician before beginning an exercise program.