One of the biggest myths surrounding heart disease is that to prevent it, you should limit your exercise. Nothing could be further from the truth: Regular exercise is critical to heart health. A recent report published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that small amounts of physical activity, including standing, are associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, but more exercise leads to even greater reduction in risk of death from cardiovascular disease.
Even just a moderate walk every day will make a huge difference in heart health versus a couch potato strategy. And the danger of overdoing it is negligible: According to the report, “the possibility that too much exercise training could be harmful is worthy of investigation, but research results show that even for the very active, life-long endurance athletes, the benefits of exercise training outweigh the risks.”
And while it’s true that any kind of exercise is better than no exercise at all, the following five workouts give your heart an extra dose of prevention.
Walking, which is accessible to men and women of all ages, plays a surprisingly key role in the prevention of heart disease. In one large study, researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found that walking half an hour a day reduces the overall risk of heart disease by 19 percent. Another study conducted at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory showed that brisk walking can ward off the risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes as much as running.
A recent study published in The Journal of the American College of Cardiology, suggests that running just five minutes a day can lower a person’s risk of dying prematurely. According to the study, the runners’ risk of dying form heart disease was 45 percent less than non-runners. The benefits were similar whether you ran for five minutes or for 30, implying that more doesn’t always equal better. The speculation is that running’s remarkable health payoff is due to its intensity, so if you don’t like running, jumping rope or vigorous cycling may yield similar results.
Many studies link yoga with lower blood pressure, increased lung capacity, and improved respiratory function and heart rate. In one study, researchers in India followed people with heart disease for a year. Patients who practiced a yoga-based lifestyle, including dietary changes and stress management found 43 and 70 percent improvement in their heart disease along with significant reductions in their blood pressure.
Swimming’s emphasis on the heart and lungs makes it an ideal workout to combat heart disease. As an added bonus it’s low impact and joint friendly, so even people who suffer from arthritis can swim with relative ease. A study out of the State University of New York showed that compared to non-swimmers, those who swim have lower heart rates, better blood pressure, and improved breathing and circulation.
Although you may not associate weight training with cardiovascular health, it’s surprisingly effective at lowering high blood pressure, improving cholesterol levels and increasing insulin sensitivity. According to a Harvard study, weight or resistance training more than 30 minutes per week decreased heart disease risk by 23 percent. In another study, resistance exercise led to a longer-lasting drop in cardiovascular health after exercise than aerobic exercise.