What is exercise?
Exercise is an activity that requires physical effort to sustain or improve health and fitness. Being physically active is an effective tool for strengthening the heart, keeping your weight under control, and warding off artery damage from high cholesterol, high blood sugar, and high blood pressure that could lead to heart attack or stroke.
What is heart health?
The heart pumps blood to every part of the body. Blood carries oxygen, fuel, hormones, other compounds and essential cells. Blood removes the waste products of the metabolism. When the heart stops, essential functions fail.
The heart has four chambers: the left and right atria and the left and right ventricles. The left ventricle pumps freshly oxygenated blood out of the heart and into the rest of the body. Regular exercise causes an increase in the size of the left ventricle. The increased size of the left ventricle makes it easier for the heart to supply oxygenated blood to all organs, muscles, and systems.
There are three main types of exercise: aerobic, resistance training, and stretching.
Aerobic exercise improves circulation, which lowers blood pressure and heart rate. Aerobic exercise increases overall aerobic fitness and helps cardiac output (how well the heart pumps). Aerobic exercise reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes and helps to control glucose. The body’s ability to consume and use oxygen is a direct marker of aerobic fitness. Aerobic fitness is associated with a decreased risk of heart disease. Thirty minutes a day, five days a week is the recommended amount of aerobic exercise.
Aerobic exercise includes the following:
- Brisk walking
- Playing tennis
- Jumping rope
Resistance training can help reduce fat and create leaner muscle mass. Research suggests aerobic exercise and resistance work could help raise HDL (good) cholesterol and lower LDL (bad) cholesterol. A combination of resistance training and aerobic exercise can help improve metabolic rate. The more muscle mass developed, the more calories burned. Paired with diet, aerobic exercise and resistance training lead to weight loss. Experts suggest resistance training at least two nonconsecutive days a week.
Resistance training includes:
- Working out with free weights
- Working out with resistance bands
- Performing body-resistance exercises
Stretching, Flexibility, and Balance
Flexibility workouts do not contribute to heart health. Flexibility workouts benefit musculoskeletal health that helps people to stay flexible and free from joint pain, cramping, and other muscular issues. Flexibility is critical in maintaining aerobic exercise and resistance training. Experts recommend stretching every day and before and after exercise.
- Tai chi
Blood pressure is the pressure of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries. Arteries carry blood from the heart to the rest of the body. Blood pressure rises and falls throughout the day. High blood pressure is known as hypertension. Higher blood pressure levels increase the risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.
Cholesterol is a waxy substance that the body needs to build cells, make vitamins, and make other hormones. Cholesterol comes from two sources; the liver and animal-based food. The liver makes all the cholesterol the body needs. The remainder of the cholesterol comes from animal-based food. Animal-based foods are high in saturated and trans fats that cause the liver to make more cholesterol. Some tropical oils contain saturated fat that can increase bad cholesterol. Cholesterol can join with other substances to form a thick, hard deposit inside the arteries. Cholesterol deposits can make arteries less flexible (atherosclerosis). A narrow artery could allow a blood clot to block a passage, resulting in a heart attack or stroke.
Blood sugar (glucose) is the sugar found in the blood. The body gets glucose from the food consumed. Blood sugar is an energy source that provides nutrients to the body’s organs, muscles, and nervous system. Maintaining healthy blood sugar levels help prevent or delay long-term, serious health problems like heart disease, vision loss, and kidney disease. Staying within a target range can help improve energy and mood.
Diabetes is a chronic (long-lasting) health condition that affects how your body turns food into energy. The body breaks down most of the food consumed into glucose and releases it into the bloodstream. When blood sugar goes up, it signals the pancreas to release insulin. Insulin is a key to let blood sugar into the body’s cells for use as energy. With diabetes, the body does not make enough insulin or cannot use it as it should. When there is low insulin or cells stop responding to insulin, blood sugar stays in the bloodstream. Over time, increased sugar in the bloodstream can lead to heart disease, vision loss, and kidney disease.