The Best Exercise for Your Heart
Working up a sweat—consistently—is the key to cardiovascular well-being.
Heart Health Essentials
There can be no heart health without regular exercise—by now, this is gospel. And with studies cropping up that link physical activity to a raft of other benefits (from lower risk of depression to improved eye health), some doctors want us to think of exercise as medicine.
But if moving is medicine, what’s the right prescription?
News of marathon runners dropping dead mid-run has fuelled the perception that endurance sports aren’t necessarily healthy. In fact, risk of sudden death during a long-distance race is exceptionally low: less than one in 100,000, or safer than driving, according to recent U.S. data. If tackling a fitness challenge keeps you motivated, there’s no reason to stop. But if you struggle with a love-hate relationship with the gym, research suggests that moderate exercise is just as good for maintaining optimal heart health.
In one 2014 study, a team led by researchers at Texas’s Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine probed the cardiovascular function of 101 adults over 60 years of age with varying commitments to physical activity. Those who exercised less than twice a week over the decades fared worse than those who logged more fitness time. More surprisingly, the men and women who consistently exercised four to five times a week scored nearly as well as athletes who worked out almost every day and engaged in regular competitions.
Unfortunately, data worldwide has found that the majority of adults do not reach even minimum requirements for physical activity—in Canada, only 15 per cent do. To the couch-inclined, cardiologists say that anything is better than nothing. But the sweet spot is more than three sessions a week-advice enshrined in the World Health Organization’s physical activity guidelines, which state that adults should log at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity a week (and add in strength training). The type of activity doesn’t matter, as long as it raises the heart rate—most forms of yoga, while beneficial in other ways, don’t count. For the sake of our tickers, we need to get comfortable with a bit of sweat.