Exercise Your Way to a Healthier Heart

January 23, 2009

Exercise is not only good for our overall health; it’s one of the best things we can do to promote a healthier heart. Here’s a look at the best exercises for the heart.


Our 21st century world is full of modern conveniences, but many of us are paying a high price in poor health and shorter lives. Stressful jobs, fast food meals, and busy days that leave little time for exercise or physical activity have led to record levels of obesity, diabetes and heart disease. A vast majority of people fail to exercise the recommended four to five times per week.

“A key risk factor for heart disease,” says Dr.Wattanapon, “is the change in metabolism that occurs as people age, especially when combined with poor nutrition habits. This can lead to many chronic conditions including diabetes and high blood pressure (hypertension), both of which impair the body’s ability to circulate blood to and from the heart. That helps explain why coronary heart disease is the leading cause of heart-related deaths.”

“Coronary artery disease is the condition in which the blood supply to the heart is reduced or blocked due to clogged arteries," Dr. Wattanapon continues. "This forces the heart to work much harder to keep blood circulating. When blood flow becomes obstructed, a patient is at serious risk of a life-threatening heart attack or stroke.”

“Exercise plays a vital role in protecting against serious heart problems, especially coronary artery disease,” Dr.Wattanapon explains. “Even among patients who’ve already had a previous heart attack, proper exercise can be very beneficial for a successful recovery and lowers the odds of suffering a future heart attack.”


Knowing the right way to exercise is an important step toward a healthier heart. “We often think that ‘exercise’ means playing team sports or running on a treadmill,” says Dr.Wattanapon. “But there are many more ways for people to get a healthy workout that offer plenty of variety and don’t require a great deal of time. To improve overall health and heart health, I recommend activities that get the body moving at a medium level of intensity, the kind that get us breathing a bit faster. This can include brisk walking and even doing household chores. To be sure your activities are promoting heart health, it's important to understand the concepts of heart rate and Target Heart Rate Zone.”
“Heart rate is the number of heartbeats per unit of time, usually expressed in beats per minute,” Dr.Wattanapon explains. “The other important numbers to know before starting an exercise program are your maximum heart rate (the highest number of times the heart can contract in one minute) and your Target Heart Rate Zone, which is the heart rate one should reach during each heart-healthy workout.”

“You can calculate your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220, while your Target Heart Rate Zone is about 50 to 75 percent of your maximum heart rate,” Dr.Wattanapon continues. “For example, if you are 40 years old, your maximum heart rate is 180 beats per minute (220 minus 40), so your Target Heart Rate Zone will be between 90 - 135 beats per minute.”
“During the first few months,” Dr.Wattanapon says, “you should focus your efforts on doing aerobic exercise that allows you to reach and maintain your minimum (i.e. 50 percent) Target Heart Rate Zone for 30 to 45 minutes per workout. Then, you can gradually increase your target rate toward the maximum number (at 75 percent) within four to five months. At the beginning, many people struggle to reach their minimum Target Heart Rate Zone. The key to success is perseverance; stick to your plan of several workouts each week and gradually increase the intensity of each workout session. As the body adjusts, you’ll be able to exercise longer and with greater intensity, and eventually you’ll reach your Target Heart Rate Zone.”
“It’s important to warm up properly before exercising; first, spend about five minutes stretching to prepare your body for a workout,” Dr.Wattanaporn advises. “After your workout, spend another five minutes stretching and cooling down to help protect your muscles from potential injury.”

The key to achieving and maintaining good health is consistency. For your overall health and a healthier heart, exercise at least three times a week and pay attention to three important rules: increase workout intensity gradually, maintain a proper heart rate throughout each workout, and stick to your exercise program. Finally, be sure to consult your doctor before starting any new exercise regimen.
To increase and maintain heart and lung efficiency, know the importance of heart rate.
  • Maximum Heart Rate = 220 - your current age
  • Target Heart Rate Zone = Maximum Heart Rate x 0.5 to Maximum Heart Rate x 0.75
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