Get Your Cardio In
Your heart is a muscle. It needs its own workout.
It’s not nicknamed “cardio” for nothing. Exercise that gets your heart pumping and improves your circulation—also referred to as aerobic exercise—can do wonders for your entire cardiovascular system.
Many people do aerobic exercises regularly in an effort to lose or keep off weight. That’s just fine, but even people who are happy with their weight should really make time for cardio. You can’t pump iron with the heart muscle like you can with your biceps. But you can make it pump faster, and in the long term this will help prevent cardiovascular disease.
“The goal is to get your heart rate up,” explains interventional cardiologist Michael J. Babcock, MD, of St. Joseph’s/Candler Physician Network — Cardiology Associates. “Your target level is based on your age. It is easy to find out what your zone is online, and all the gyms have this information too. Whatever level that may be, the idea is to reach it for a 20-30 minute duration.”
The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes per week of higher-intensity or a combination of both. That’s a pretty big chunk of your week, but you have a variety of ways to spend it.
Doing What You Love
Aerobic exercises that can benefit your heart include:
- Brisk walking
- Jogging (outside or on a treadmill)
- Gym stations such as the elliptical and rowing machine
- Jump rope/Jumping jacks
These activity levels are matched in most sports including tennis, soccer and basketball. You can even get your heart rate up mowing the lawn, depending on your pace.
Dr. Babcock encourages patients to try several things and not to forget the benefit of making it social—invite your family or friends to join you.
“If you find something you love, do more of it,” he says. “Do it often.”
Set Up For Success
Cardio exercises help your heart pump better and lower your blood pressure. Exercise also stabilizes plaque that you may already have in your blood vessels. Plaque is a buildup of fatty deposits that forms in your arteries. Unstable plaques can lead to heart attacks.
But the benefits go even further: cardio reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes, which is a risk factor for heart disease. It also has an anti-depressant effect—research has shown it works as well as anti-depressant medication in some people.
It’s clear why cardio is important to overall health, but Dr. Babcock doesn’t pressure his patients to try and change their lives overnight. In fact, he believes attempting to do so is a recipe for failure.
“You don’t have to run a marathon,” he says. “You don’t even have to go 50 percent faster or longer if you’re a walker or a runner. Just increase by 20 percent next time. Set yourself up for success with incremental growth.”
Dr. Babcock does remind patients that their cardio exercise routine is one piece of a larger puzzle that includes strength training, flexibility and balance, and diet changes that incorporate more fresh vegetables and fruits.
“Unfortunately, a lot of our quick, available foods are so calorie-dense that even with small servings you could find yourself many calories above your daily recommended rate,” he says. “So it’s not a matter of ‘I did my 20 minutes of cardio; I can go back to my fast food meal.’ That’s not going to work.”
Realize Your Potential
Dr. Babcock emphasizes regular exercise and a proper diet because he wants to prevent the diseases that he treats now from taking hold in the next generation. He hopes people will find an exercise they love before they experience symptoms of heart disease.
“Even if you feel well now, you can feel even better once you realize your potential,” he says. “On the other hand, if you’re not active, your body may not even alert you to a serious medical situation.”
Once it becomes second nature to get your cardio in, Dr. Babcock hopes you’ll help someone else find success the same way.
“There is a social benefit to exercising with friends and family,” he says. “And this is about wellness for everyone, not just those at risk for heart disease. Sometimes it really does take a community.”
Yoga isn’t aerobic exercise, but can it help your heart too? Find out here.