If you are reading this article, we first want to acknowledge that you have started or are looking to start exercising to improve your heart health. This, and of itself, is a huge step forward in reducing the risk of heart disease and a whole host of other considerations and concerns that may arise, both physically and psychologically, because of a sedentary lifestyle.
Before we delve into the different forms of exercise, it is essential to mention two very important things. First, while exercising is critically important, improving your diet must also be a priority on your list. If we think purely about calories in and calories out, having one can of regular soda would require approximately an hour of running to burn off. Preventing the calories from entering your system in the first place is far easier than trying to burn excess calories off through exercise. Second, any new exercise program must be cleared by your cardiologist, especially if you have existing cardiovascular concerns. We don’t want you to injure yourself and set your exercise program back, but we also want to make sure that your heart can handle the physical stress.
To that end, you may be wondering whether cardio or strength training is better for the health of your heart. Of course, the initial reaction would be cardio! It’s right in the name! However, each of these exercises offers something valuable. As such, the short answer is that you should be performing both.
Cardio gets your heart rate up and, as you should with any muscle in your body, works the heart muscle to make it stronger and keep it running efficiently. Common cardio exercises include walking or running, swimming, cycling, and anything that gets your heart beating faster. Some patients prefer endurance cardio exercises, while others enjoy high-intensity interval training or HIIT. Each of these exercises has its place, and along with your medical team, you can develop an appropriate exercise plan that fits your needs and lifestyle.
Strength training uses your bodyweight or other weight to increase muscle mass. You may not get the same heart rate increase as you do with cardio; however, building muscle mass plays a crucial long-term role in your health. First, better musculature supports your body to perform other exercises, including cardio. Secondly, muscle burns more calories than the fat it replaces. As such, you will naturally burn more calories over the course of the day, even at rest, than if you didn’t develop that muscle in the first place.
Keeping your heart healthy, especially in middle age and beyond, is critical to avoiding or delaying the onset of cardiovascular disease. It is no coincidence that as our society has become heavier and more obese, the incidence and severity of heart disease have increased commensurately. It would help if you also remembered that it is never too late to start exercising. Yes, the gains may be slow in coming if you haven’t exercised in a while or if you’ve gained a lot of weight. But keep at it, and you will reap the results of a healthier heart. Of course, as your cardiologists, we are here to help and advise you in any new exercise program you’re looking into. Most importantly, we are concerned with your safety and ability to perform these exercises safely and consistently. Feel free to give us a call if you have any questions about this or other exercise programs.