Cardiovascular Fitness: A 5-Week Heart Health Exercise Plan

by | Updated: February 7th, 2021 | Read time: 4 minutes

Exercise is a powerful tool for your ticker. Heart health is a vital component of living a long and active life. Being physically fit improves heart health in several ways:

  • Increases calorie burn, helping you reach or maintain a healthy weight
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Improves cholesterol levels
  • Better regulates blood sugar
  • Helps your heart’s arteries to dilate
  • Improves the way your sympathetic nervous system responds, leading to better control over your heart rate and blood pressure

Concept of Cardiovascular Fitness Represented by Woman in Workout Clothes Sitting on Pink Mat with Weights and Water Bottle | Vitacost.com/blog

How often to exercise for heart health

The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of moderate activity per week. You can break this down however you wish, but spending about 30 minutes per day getting up and active is ideal.

If you’d prefer to work harder for less time, the recommendation is 75 minutes of higher intensity exercise per week. Of course, you can combine more intense activity with less taxing exercise to meet your goals. Making time for movement that relaxes you and helps you unwind can further improve your heart health by reducing stress.

If you aren’t ready to commit to that much exercise each week, modest activity as little as an hour of walking or gardening each week can help prevent death from all causes, including heart attack and stroke. According to the research, it’s possible that just 15 minutes per day of activity can help you live an extra three years compared to those who don’t.

Heart rate zone training

While some people prefer to run at a certain pace per mile, heart rate training uses your beats per minute to measure running speed. Heart rate zone training requires you to know your maximum heart rate.

You can determine your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220. Maximum heart rates can vary from 15 to 20 beats per minute higher or lower than the number you arrive at, so use this as your guide.

The American Heart Association recommends that beginners start at 50 to 75% of their maximum heart rate. If you can perform vigorous activity, you can work at 70 to 85% of your maximum heart rate (MHR). Use a heart rate monitor to keep track.

  • Zone 1: 50 to 60% of MHR
  • Zone 2: 60 to 70% of MHR
  • Zone 3: 70 to 80% of MHR
  • Zone 4: 80 to 90% of MHR
  • Zone 5: 90 to 100% of MHR

If you plan on running for a long distance, training mostly in zones one and two with some interval training in zones 3 and 4 is ideal. If you are preparing for a race such as a 5K, training in zones 3 to 4 will be best.

An exercise plan for cardiovascular fitness

For a healthy heart, you should be able to perform some vigorous activity each week.

To do that, building strength, mobility and flexibility are also essential.

Aim to perform strength-building activities at least twice per week, hitting every muscle group. Mobility and flexibility work will help keep you functioning without injury. Using the time to work on your mobility and flexibility by participating in activities that help you relax will decrease stress levels, contributing to a healthy heart.

If you’re just starting, it’s essential to know how to progress your activity safely. Here is a simple cardiovascular fitness plan you can try to get on the right track.

Week One

  • Exercise 3 times this week for 15 to 20 minutes (or more, depending on fitness level)
  • Train at a steady state in zone one or two

Week Two

  • Exercise 3-4 times this week for 10% longer each session than you did last week.
  • Try adding short intervals of higher intensity this week.

Week Three

  • Exercise 3-4 times this week for 10% longer each session than you did last week.
  • Try adding a bit longer intervals of higher intensity this week. See if you can rest for less time in between your intervals.

Week Four

  • Exercise 4 times this week for 10% longer each session than you did last week.
  • Try adding more intervals of higher intensity this week. See if you can rest for even less time in between your intervals.

Week Five

  • Exercise 4-5 times this week for 10% longer each session than you did last week.
  • Aim for a one-to-one ratio of higher intensity and low intensity for 4 to 5-minute intervals. So, work at a higher intensity for 4 to 5 minutes, then go easy for 4 to 5 minutes.

The takeaway

Taking care of your heart will reward you with a longer, more functional life. A balanced, heart-healthy diet and a proper exercise routine can improve your quality of life from your younger years to your golden years. More young people feel the effects of a sedentary lifestyle, and to reduce the rates of heart disease and stroke, we must protect ourselves. Start with small goals and master them, then add to them as habits develop.