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How To Build an Exercise Plan for a Healthy Heart

July 07, 2022

One of the keys to a healthy heart is keeping it active. Binge watching your favorite shows won’t do that. Instead, you need to find an activity – walking, swimming, tennis or whatever you enjoy – that gets you off the couch and your heart pumping faster.

Exercise can help you lower your blood sugar, sleep better, boost your mood, breathe easier and improve your cholesterol levels. But more than anything, you’ll strengthen your body’s engine – the heart – and reduce the risk of several life-threatening conditions, including heart attacks.

Getting Started with an Exercise Plan

If you’ve been living a sedentary lifestyle, you aren’t ready to jump into training for the Boston Marathon. Your first step is to get used to whatever activity it is that you’re going to do. Start slowly.

In the beginning, aim for 30 minutes of exercise three days a week. But the goal should be to get to at least 150 minutes of exercise each week, divided up however you want.

Don’t get caught up in the idea that you need to be breaking a sweat. Focus, instead, on setting realistic goals. Decide how often and how long you will be exercising and don’t let anything get in the way of that.

If you set aside a couple nights to play basketball, for example, you can’t accept dinner invitations on those nights. Or if you decide to do some sort of family exercise after breakfast on Saturday mornings, you need to stick with that, even while on vacation or visiting relatives.

So, as you get started, your goal is to find something you like doing and then commit to doing it.

Try These Exercises

Exercise plans can vary from person to person – there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach. One of the keys is finding an activity that you enjoy or, at least, can tolerate. And while cardio is important for the heart, that shouldn’t be your sole focus. Also keep in mind that strength training – particularly with your core muscles – and flexibility exercises will pay health dividends down the road.

Among exercises to consider:

  • Brisk walking: This is one of the easiest ways to improve your activity level. Get out in the neighborhood for 30 minutes a day, aiming for about 100 steps a minute. Once that proves to be too easy, try picking up the pace or even wearing a weighted vest.
  • Jogging: You’ll burn calories at a faster clip than walking and your heart will be working harder.
  • Cycling: Take a spin on a bike or stay indoors and ride a stationary cycle.
  • Strength training: Lifting weights can get the heart pumping, but it also increases muscle mass, which burns more calories while you are at rest.
  • Yoga: This can improve your flexibility, while also building strength and improving your cholesterol and stress levels.
  • High-intensity interval training (HIIT): This form of exercise alternates between short bursts of intense workout followed by longer periods of slower-paced action. For example, you might ride a stationary bike as fast as you can for 30 seconds and the pedal an easier pace for several minutes.

How Hard Should You Exercise?

Listen to what your body tells you. Often there’s a misconception that you have to exercise less as you get older. And there are certainly age factors that come into play. Things like arthritis and chronic back pain may have a lot to say about your level of activity.

And as you get older, you won’t run as fast or jump as high as you once did. But what it really comes down to is what your body can tolerate. If you are 92 years old and enjoy playing pickleball, go for it. You just need to listen to your body. When it cries ‘uncle,’ it’s time to stop.

To get the most out of your exercise sessions, you need to push yourself. During a 30-minute session, there should be a period of five to 10 minutes where you’re working hard enough that you can’t carry on a conversation because you’re so focused on beathing.

In terms of intensity, you can figure out a good target heart rate based on the formula for determining maximum heart rate during exercise. Subtract your age from 220 to get your max rate. If you are 60, your rate would be 160. A good cardio exercise goal would be 80 percent of that number – 128, in this instance.

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