Exercise your way to a healthy heart

Heart Health, Fitness
Feb 3, 2022

Physical activity is known to benefit your heart in many ways. Here are eight of them, as well as some suggestions on how to get moving.

You’ve heard it until you’re blue in the face: proper diet and exercise are keys to leading a healthy life. But it’s fact. Exercise keeps your heart healthy, lowers your risk of diabetes and stroke, helps prevent osteoporosis and arthritis and reduces stress.

“Diet and exercise are the mainstay,” says Dr. Michael Babcock, cardiologist with St. Joseph’s/Candler Physician Network – Cardiology Associates who treats patients at The Heart Hospital at St. Joseph’s/Candler. “It does get overplayed; people keep hearing it and hearing it. But it’s the foundation of cardiovascular health. With diet and exercise, we generally hope to prevent the disease state that we’re treating in the hospital.”

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Savannah Cardiologist Dr. Michael Babcock

The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate to intense physical activity each week. This can sound daunting to many people, but take it literally one step at a time, Dr. Babcock says.

It starts by setting realistic goals. The first week, try to reduce your calorie intake by 10 percent and increase exercise by 10 to 20 percent. You don’t have to run a marathon or go on a crash diet. The key is to get moving.

“‘Objects in motion stay in motion.’ I tell that to all my patients, and I follow up by saying a wise man once said,” Dr. Babcock says. “But it’s true because if you’re active, it’s easier to stay active. And we want people to be active.”

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Eight ways exercise helps your heart

There are many ways exercise affects your heart in a positive way. Here are eight:

  1. Reduces your risk of getting heart disease and can help prevent existing heart disease from getting worse.
  2. Lowers your risk of getting high blood pressure.
  3. Lowers blood pressure in some people who already have high blood pressure.
  4. Raises your high-density lipoprotein (HDL), known as the “healthy” cholesterol that we want to keep “high.”
  5. Lowers your low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or the “lousy” cholesterol that we want to keep “low.”
  6. Lowers the amount of triglycerides, a form of sugar, in your bloodstream.
  7. Helps you lose extra weight, which can strain the heart
  8. Makes your heart and lungs work more efficiently.

Finding the right exercise for you

You don’t have to strain your body to benefit from exercise. Even moderate exercise is good for you. You want to find the right fit for you to be successful. You also want to enjoy what you do so choose an activity that you like. Consider:

  • Walking
  • Gardening
  • Doing housework
  • Ballroom dancing
  • Aerobic dancing
  • Jogging or running
  • Swimming laps
  • Bicycling
  • Rowing
  • Yoga

You can even get your heart rate up by parking further away from the office or at the grocery store, taking the stairs instead of the elevator or walking around the house during commercials. The idea is to get your heart rate up for at least 20 to 30 minutes each day.

“You don’t have to run a marathon. You just have to get your heart rate up for a consistent period of time,” Dr. Babcock says. “That can be in whatever form people want to do because if you’re not emotionally connected to an exercise – if you don’t enjoy it – it’s hard to do. It won’t be successful.”

“If you find something you love, do more of it. Do it often and then bring your family and friends along with you.”

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