The ‘best’ cardio workout for a healthy heart

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Today is a perfect time to get moving on your fitness goals. Regular exercise does more than help you lose weight and build muscle — although it’s definitely good for those reasons!

Aerobic exercise, also known as “cardio” exercise, uses repetitive contraction of large muscle groups to get your heart beating faster and is the most beneficial type of exercise for your cardiovascular system (your heart and blood vessels). Regular cardio workouts can:

  • Strengthen your heart and blood vessels
  • Improve the flow of oxygen throughout your body
  • Lower your blood pressure and cholesterol
  • Reduce your risk for heart diseasediabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, and some kinds of cancer

What’s the ‘best’ cardio workout?

My patients often ask me, “What’s the best type of exercise for heart health?” Here’s what I tell them: I don’t care what type of exercise you do as long as you do something!

There is no “magic bullet” for exercise. There’s no “only way” to do it. For example, I’m a cross-trainer. I may work out at the gym for 30 minutes total, but I’ll use three different machines for 10 minutes each to switch it up and keep exercise more interesting for me.

You don’t have to employ the same exercise strategy that I do to get the heart-healthy benefits of cardio exercise. What’s most important is that you exercise regularly. One way you can make that easier is to make it a part of your everyday routine.

We all have a daily routine for personal hygiene — brushing our teeth, taking a shower, and so on. Exercise should be on that list. A lifelong commitment to regular cardio exercise can preserve your heart’s function and keep it “youthful” over the course of your life.

Regular cardio exercise for a healthy heart

I recommend exercising a minimum of four to five days each week. One key part of this schedule is to vary the types and intensity of exercise you do on different days. By changing up your exercise routine regularly, you’ll work different muscles and lower your risk for overuse injuries. You also can avoid the trap of doing the same thing over and over until you get bored and quit altogether.

I recommend moderate-intensity exercise two or three days a week for at least 30 minutes. You should break a sweat and be a little short of breath during good moderate-intensity exercise, but still be able to carry on a conversation.

Take part in a longer activity — at least an hour or more — one day a week as part of your exercise routine. This can be a high-intensity activity such as a Zumba class or a lower-intensity activity such as a long bike ride or a round of golf. The activity itself doesn’t matter as long as you enjoy doing it and it keeps you moving awhile.

If you’re counting, I’ve covered three days of exercise. The fourth day — and fifth if you’re up for a challenge — should include high-intensity training. High-intensity training stimulates different muscles and different responses from your heart and blood vessels than lower-intensity training.

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