Ever wonder why we use the term “cardio” when talking about exercise? Cardio is short for cardiovascular exercise, which we now call aerobic exercise or activity. We call it cardiovascular exercise because of how these types of activities affect cardiorespiratory fitness, which is how well your heart, lungs, and muscles function during activity. Having good cardiorespiratory fitness means you are able to perform large-muscle, whole-body exercise at moderate-to-vigorous intensities for extended periods of time. Moving more can help build a strong heart and reduce the risk of heart disease.
Benefits of Moving More
Regular aerobic activity can help make your heart pump more efficiently. When this happens, your resting heart rate goes down because your heart can pump more blood with each beat. As your heart grows stronger, your systolic blood pressure (the top number of a blood pressure reading) will lower by about 5-7 mmHg as well. Because of its effects of lowering heart rate and blood pressure, regular aerobic activity can reduce the risk of heart disease by 20-30%!
Physical activity also changes blood cholesterol levels. Regular physical activity can increase high density lipoprotein (HDL), the type of cholesterol that helps protect your heart. It can also reduce high levels of triglycerides in your blood, another risk factor for heart disease. Physical activity can improve insulin sensitivity, help with weight control, and reduce the risk of diabetes. Having diabetes is a risk factor for heart disease. As you can see, physical activity is one of the best things you can do to reduce the risk of heart disease.
Guidelines for Physical Activity to Reduce Heart Disease Risk
The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity aerobic activity and at least 2 sessions of whole body strength training each week to improve health and prevent disease. These are the levels you should strive for to prevent heart disease as well.
150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity averages out to just 20-30 minutes a day 5-7 days a week. And you can break it up into shorter sessions throughout the day. So you should be able to find the time, no matter how busy your schedule, with a little bit of goal setting and planning. 75 minutes of vigorous activity averages out to 10-15 minutes a day 5-7 days a week. Just be sure to choose activities that make you work hard, breathe harder, and increases your heart rate. High Intensity Interval Training, like our 7 Minute HIIT Workout, is a great way to get vigorous activity and can be modified to fit your level of fitness (beginner, intermediate, or advanced).
However you like to move, being active is good for your heart. If you aren’t sure where to start, check out our Workouts for Beginners post with sample plans to build up to 150 minutes of physical activity. If you are already active, challenge yourself to pick up the pace (intensity), distance or time you walk (duration), or add another walk or two during the week (frequency). Increasing these three factors – intensity, duration, frequency – are how your body and heart get stronger and fitter. We also have ideas for indoor cardio exercises, bodyweight exercises, and Move More, Virginia! workout videos to help you move more for strong hearts.