How Regular Cardiovascular Exercise Improves Your Heart Health


Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States. While there are some risk factors for heart disease that are beyond our control (such as age, gender, ethnic background, and family history), there’s a lot that we can do to reduce our risk for developing heart disease.

One of your best weapons of defence against heart disease is a stronger and healthier heart, and to achieve that you need regular cardiovascular exercise. Read on for everything you need to know about exercising for a healthier heart – from how you should exercise to how much you should exercise.

What is cardiovascular exercise?

Cardiovascular exercise (commonly known as ‘cardio exercise’ or simply ‘cardio’) is any form of exercise that raises your heart rate. Some of the most common cardiovascular exercise include...

  • Walking
  • Jogging
  • Running
  • Swimming
  • Rowing
  • Cycling
  • Circuit training

Cardiovascular exercise involves using large muscle movement in a repetitive fashion, activating muscle fibers programmed for endurance and keeping your heart rate to at least 50% of its maximum level.

Why should I do cardiovascular exercise?

Our bodies are made to move, and to keep your muscles in good shape you need to move them. Your heart is a muscle too, and it becomes stronger with exercise; and a stronger heart makes for a healthier body – because a more efficient cardiovascular system means more capillaries delivering more oxygen to cells in your muscles, enabling these cells to burn more fat even when you’re inactive.

What effects does cardiovascular exercise have on my heart?

When performing cardiovascular exercise, your heart contracts faster and your blood circulation increases, getting oxygenated blood to your muscles quicker. As the demand for blood increases, the heart will try to meet the demand by increasing the heart rate, causing your heart to beat faster per minute and to contract more forcefully with each beat so that it can pump more blood throughout the body.

With regular exercise, the left ventricle of the heart adapts to the increased amount of blood flow and enlarges, creating a larger cavity to hold more blood and eject more blood per beat, even at rest. Over time you’ll see a drop in your resting heart rate because your heart will require fewer beats and each beat will deliver a bigger burst of blood. This takes the strain off your heart, hence why cardiovascular exercise is so important for your heart health.

What other benefits are there?

Cardiovascular exercise has some long-term benefits for your heart, but it’s also good for…

  • Improving your ability to draw in deeper breaths
  • Reducing resting blood pressure
  • Increasing calories burned to aid weight loss
  • Reducing your risk of developing heart disease

Together with a balanced diet , these benefits can help to lower your ‘bad’ low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and sustain a healthy weight.

However, too much of anything is bad for you – and cardiovascular exercise is no different! Excessive cardio can further your stress levels: if you overtrain, you may hit a point where you’re drowning in cortisol, which can lead to immune-suppression and fat gain around the face and the abdomen. In other words, moderation is key when it comes to cardiovascular exercise – so...

How much should I exercise?

You don’t have to jog for an hour every day to exercise – unless you want to! In fact, some studies have shown light to moderate exercise may have greater health benefits because you’re more likely to stick to it.

Even if regular physical activity has not been a part of your daily routine, you can ease your way into heart-healthy exercise with lower-intensity, lower-impact activities (like walking) for 30 minutes a day, five days a week – you can also take two 15-minute walks or three 10-minute walks a day.

Your body will tell you when you’re ready to move onto moderate exercises such as running or rowing. Just make sure that, when you do, the activity is vigorous enough to raise your heart rate, which you can tell by doing the talk/sing test: if you struggle to talk while exercising, you’re working too hard. If you can sing, you’re not working hard enough.

Before you adopt an exercise routine, be sure to speak to your doctor to make sure it is safe for your individual health conditions.

Want more heart health tips?

There’s more where this came from: our blog is full of heart health tips, including what lifestyle changes you should make to achieve a healthier heart and how you can keep your heart safe during transitional seasons.

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