When it comes to taking care of your cardiovascular health, being physically active is one of the most important things you can do. But have you ever wondered why exercise is so critical if it can often leave you feeling out of breath and tired? We’ll explain.
The heart is an organ made of muscle with one main job: to contract and relax, sending blood throughout your body. Just as lifting weights makes your arm muscles stronger and running strengthens quads and hamstrings, making your heart work harder helps strengthen your heart.
Building up the heart muscle
If you’ve ever run up a flight of stairs or walked uphill, you probably know that exercise causes your heart to work harder. The reason: When you exercise, your heart becomes stronger so it can send more oxygen-rich blood to your body’s tissues with less effort. That decreases the force on your arteries, lowering blood pressure. Exercise may cause blood pressure to increase temporarily while you’re being active, but the long-term benefits outweigh the risks of a short-term spike for most people. (Talk to your doctor to learn more.)
Other exercise benefits
Exercise has other cardiovascular health benefits. It can increase blood flow in the small blood vessels around your heart, helping prevent clogs that can lead to heart attacks. There’s also evidence that being active helps your body create more blood vessel connections, so blood can flow in different ways if one path is blocked. Exercise can also help improve your cholesterol by transporting “bad” LDL cholesterol out of the body.
What’s the best exercise?
The good news is: Any type of exercise is good for your heart, so you can choose the one that works best for you. Whether you’re swimming, spinning, or taking a brisk walk, as long as the heart muscle is pumping, your body will reap the benefits.
“Getting Active to Control High Blood Pressure.” American Heart Association (10 January 2018).
“Exercise: A Drug-Free Approach to Lowering High Blood Pressure.” Mayo Clinic (6 August 2015). https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-pressure/in-depth/high-blood-pressure/art-20045206
Diaz, K.M., and Shimbo, D. “Physical Activity and the Prevention of Hypertension.” Current Hypertension Reports (1 December 2014). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3901083/