Our bodies are meant to move, so it’s not surprising that exercise is an important way to keeping your heart healthy. In fact, figuring out how to lead an active, healthy life may be one of the best things you can do for your heart health today and in the future. It’s also a great stress-buster.
Whether it’s work demands, taking care of our families, financial woes, or braving seemingly never-ending to-do lists, too much stress—and the resulting “fight-or-flight” response you feel when your heart starts racing and your body tenses—may take a toll on the heart too. Read on to learn about how to be more physically active and in tune with your stress levels.
Why it’s important
Did you know:
The power of exercise
Getting regular exercise may be your best defense against heart disease or having another cardiac event.
Physical activity can help:
As mentioned, exercise is also a great stress-buster and can boost your mood and self-esteem. Too much stress may be harmful to the heart. While clinicians are still trying to understand the connection between stress and heart problems, research suggests that sudden emotional stress may trigger a heart attack or other event in some people who already have a hardening of their coronary arteries, and even in those who don’t. Moreover, exposure to ongoing stress—when that fight-or-flight reaction stays activated—can put someone at greater risk for a number of health problems, heart disease being one of them.
Need another reason to be more physically active? Research shows that exercise can make it easier to fall and stay asleep, helping you to feel more alert. Not getting enough sleep has been linked to a greater risk for cardiovascular disease, obesity, accidents and other health issues.
How much is enough?
Experts say you get the greatest benefits when you achieve at least 30 minutes of moderate (aerobic) activity most days. Activities may include taking a brisk walk, swimming, playing tennis, riding a bicycle, dancing, water aerobics, gardening—even busy housework.
If you can’t find a full 30 minutes to exercise, remember that doing something is better than nothing. Even bursts of activity of 10-minutes or less—running in place, doing jumping jacks or other movements to get your heart rate going—three or more times a day have also been shown to have health benefits when cumulatively achieving 30 minutes.
Exercise is usually just what the doctor ordered
Sometimes people who have heart disease or have suffered a heart attack or other cardiac event worry that they will overexert their heart with exercise. But exercise is important for your heart health.
Consider cardiac rehabilitation programs. These supervised exercise and nutrition programs are often recommended for people who have undergone heart surgery or have had a heart attack or stable congestive heart failure. Cardiac rehabilitation, which includes exercise, has been shown to reduce the risk of future heart problems or dying from a heart attack and lowers the likelihood someone will need to go back to the hospital or emergency room for a heart problem.
As always, talk with your doctor before starting any new exercise program or if you have concerns (see a list of questions you might want to ask below.) Some warning signs that you may be pushing too hard include:
It’s important to remember that our minds can sometimes get the better of us, especially if we aren’t finding ways to lower stress. Prolonged stress can increase stress hormones and chemicals that promote inflammation in the body.
Exercise is a good way to counteract this and give your body a surge of the mood-enhancing chemicals called endorphins. Deep breathing and mindfulness-based meditation can also ease tension, helping to train your mind to focus on the present and turn your thoughts inward to what matters most to you. Whether it’s through exercise, meditation, deep breathing, yoga, or other activities that help you unplug, it’s important to relieve stress and stay positive.
7 tips to more active and mindful living
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Talking to your care team
Exercise, diet and other behaviors such as drinking alcohol and smoking should be part of discussions about your heart and overall health. Below are some questions you may want to ask or think about related to exercise and stress before your doctor appointments.
American Heart Association
National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute
MedlinePlus – U.S. National Library of Medicine