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How Does Exercise Affect Your Heart, and What are the Benefits?

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Cardiovascular (heart) disease is the nation’s number one killer of both men and women. However, there are steps you can take to reduce the risk of developing heart disease. Dr. Frederick Basilico, Physician in Chief of Medicine and Chief of Cardiology at NEBH, notes that one of these steps includes exercise, which can improve heart health, reverse some of the risk factors of heart disease and help you maintain a healthy lifestyle.

How does exercise affect your Heart?

The heart is a muscle which becomes more efficient with exercise.  When you exercise, your muscles help to circulate blood through the body taking some of the strain and effort off the heart. Not as much work is needed to pump blood and the heart becomes stronger over a period of time

As you begin to exercise, your heart will contract faster and circulation will increase, which gets oxygenated blood to your muscles quicker. As the demand for blood increases, the heart is going to try to meet the demand by increasing the heart rate and also by increasing the force at which it contracts. The increase in oxygen delivery is twofold: your heart will have more beats per minute, and a more forceful contraction each time it beats so it can pump a greater amount of blood throughout the body.

What are some benefits?

Exercise has long-term cardiovascular benefits. These include decreased resting heart rate, improved ability to draw in deeper breaths, reduced resting blood pressure, increased calories burned to aid weight loss and reduced risk of heart disease.  These cardiovascular benefits help manage cholesterol; exercise can l raise HDL (good) cholesterol.  Exercise and diet can lead to weight loss which will help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol. Exercise can help you sustain a healthy weight because it burns calories and raises your heart rate.   Maintaining a healthy weight through diet, avoiding high- fat foods and making physical activity a part of your lifestyle are important steps to keeping a healthy heart.  In addition, exercising regularly can help ensure normal blood pressure and blood flow.

How much exercise?

Even if physical activity has not been a part of your routine, everyone has to start somewhere. Walking, jogging, and swimming are examples of aerobic exercises that benefit your heart. Perform light exercise such as walking for at least 30 minutes 5 days a week.  Alternatively, perform moderate exercise such as running or bicycling for at least 30 minutes 3 days a week.

Be sure to talk to your doctor before starting any new exercise program to make sure it is safe to do so. 

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