When you walk briskly, jog or run, you’re engaging in aerobic exercise. Other ways to get your aerobic exercise are dancing, swimming, stair climbing, bicycling, elliptical training or rowing. Your heart loves these activities.
Even if you’re limited in the type of activities you do, your doctor can help you find alternatives. For example, if you have arthritis, aquatic exercises may give you the benefits of aerobic activity without stressing your joints.
The important thing is to get moving for the good of your heart. Try to incorporate 30 minutes of physical activity into your daily life in simple ways. You can break up your activity into 10-minute segments throughout your day. You can take the stairs, or park farther away at the grocery store. Just being aware of how important exercise is to your heart will encourage you move more.
Why is exercise so important?
The first thing that happens during aerobic exercise is you breathe faster and more deeply. This maximizes the amount of oxygen in your blood. Your heart will beat faster, which increases blood flow to your muscles and back to your lungs.
Your small blood vessels (capillaries) will widen to deliver more oxygen to your muscles and carry away waste products, such as carbon dioxide and lactic acid.
Your heart is muscle and it also benefits greatly from physical activity. Aerobic exercise may help lower blood pressure and control blood sugar. If you have coronary artery disease, aerobic exercise may help you manage your condition.
Exercise strengthens your heart, and a stronger heart doesn’t need to beat as fast. A stronger heart pumps blood more efficiently, which improves blood flow to all parts of your body.
While you exercise you’ll also be helping your arteries stay clear and open. Aerobic exercise boosts your high-density lipoprotein (HDL), the “good,” cholesterol, and lowers your low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the “bad,” cholesterol. This can result in less buildup of plaque in your arteries.
How intense should the exercise be?
Your exercise plan should be individualized. The intensity will depend on your previous exercise experience. The WHO (World Health Organization) describes moderate intensity exercise as an activity that requires moderate amount of effort and noticeably accelerates the heart. For example, brisk walking, dancing, gardening, house chores, and sports activities or games with kids can be moderate in intensity. In contrast, vigorous intensity requires a big effort on your part and will cause rapid breathing and substantial increase in your heart rate. For example, when you run, walk or climb up a hill, ride a bicycle fast, swim fast, shovel or play competitive sports.
If you’re not sure where to start, talk to a primary care doctor about the right routine for you. A primary care physician is one of the best people to help you make good choices. Each person requires and individualized plan. A primary care doctor can help you take a comprehensive look at your current medical condition to identify what kinds of activities your body can tolerate. People who have a history of joint disease may find more benefit with water aerobic exercise than with jogging or running.
Tolulope Adeyemo, MD, is a primary care physician with Baptist Health in Mandarin. He’s a compassionate listener who believes in prevention for the whole family. He specializes in preventing and managing chronic diseases and in educating others about ways to stay healthy. He was born in Nigeria, grew up in Savannah, Georgia, and completed his medical training in Nashville, Tennessee and his residency in Columbia, South Carolina.