Pop quiz: Can you name the most important muscle in your body? Nope, it's not your abs, hamstrings or triceps. It's your heart!|
The human heart is an amazing muscle, capable of pumping about five quarts of blood throughout the body every minute—that's approximately 2,000 gallons of blood each day! In fact, the average heart beats about 100,000 times each day, too, which is why it's so important to have a strong and healthy heart.
And just like you can exercise to build strength in your skeletal muscles, you can—and should—also train your heart to become stronger, healthier and more efficient at doing its job. The right workout plan is like strength-training for your heart, which helps it pump more blood with less effort.
According to the American Heart Association (AHA) nearly 70% of Americans don't get enough exercise, yet inactivity is a major risk factor for developing coronary artery disease (CAD). CAD is caused by deposits of fatty substances, cholesterol, calcium and other substances in the inner lining of the arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle. This build-up makes the arteries narrowed or blocked, and when oxygen-rich blood can't reach the heart, the result is chest pain or a heart attack. Over time, CAD can weaken the heart muscle and lead to heart failure.
While CAD is the most common type of heart disease and the leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women, the good news is that lifestyle changes—like exercise!—can help prevent or treat CAD in most people.
How to Exercise for a Healthy Heart
Fortunately, it doesn't take hours in the gym to reap the heart-healthy benefits of exercise. As little as 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, such as walking, most days of the week can substantially reduce your risk of heart disease, enhance your mental well-being, help you manage your weight, and improve your blood pressure and blood lipid (cholesterol) profiles.
While previous recommendations have focused mainly on cardio (aerobic) conditioning for heart health, new guidelines developed by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the AHA also take into account higher levels of intensity and the benefits that strength training offers your heart, too. These recommendations are for healthy adults under the age of 65 who want to improve heart health, prevent heart disease, and increase overall well-being.
Cardio (aerobic) exercise guidelines: Perform moderately-intense cardio exercise for 30 minutes a day, five days a week. If weight-loss is your goal as well, bump this number up to 60 to 90 minutes at a moderate intensity. Moderate intensity is defined by ACSM as a target heart rate range of 55%-59% of your maximum heart rate—about at the pace where you break a sweat but are still able to carry a conversation.Continued ›