It is not “just exercise” which is important for a good heart, I’d rather call it “Awareness”. You need to be aware of your heart’s conditions and how much you are allowed to push it to give it the exercise that it needs. You need to be aware of what foods are good for your heart and what is bad and how much you are allowed to cheat when it comes to diet. You need to be aware of your mental health as that directly impacts your heart.
How exercise improves heart:
Primarily due to our sedentary lifestyle, exercise has become very essential not only for your heart but for the whole body. Cardio exercises especially when performed in the aerobic band have proven to improve the cardiac and lungs tolerance, improving the blood flow within the body and preventing heart attacks and strokes in the long run. Exercise protects you from long term damage due to diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol and keeps your bone joints stress free too.
A combination of both cardio and strength training is recommended. Aerobic exercises like playing badminton, running, cycling and swimming can be done by both youngsters and elderly according to their capacity. Weight training helps strengthen your muscles including the cardiac muscle, bones and joints. It helps you lose deep adipose fat which often causes heart attacks and strokes. Any form of moderate exercise for at least 150 mins in a week is protective for the heart. Over exerting yourself in the gym from prolonged hours can put pressure on your heart and your joints and can cause problems in the long run. Listen to your body and stop when necessary.
Walking is one of the easiest and most economical forms of exercise. Regular walks strengthen the heart muscle. The pumping of blood improves as the muscle strength improves, this causes the blood flow to improve and move better, thus lowering blood pressure. 30-40 mins of walk at least 5 days a week regularly will help reduce blood pressure by 5-10 mmHg.
Anxiety can cause a temporary increase in the blood pressure which reduces once you are calm. However recurrent episodes of anxiety and stress can cause fluctuations in blood pressure ultimately leading to high BP readings. This, along with smoking and unhealthy lifestyle, can lead to hypertension. With walking, you tend to become calmer, enjoy your surroundings, make new friends on your walks and this helps to work out together and keep your mind at peace. As you enjoy the early morning breeze or late evening chill, you feel satisfied and happier causing your anxiety levels to drop.
Try doing an activity you like, like singing, dancing, walking, painting or cooking, playing games. All these reduce your stress levels and keep your stress hormones in check. Stop smoking, eat a healthy diet with lots of fiber and good amount of protein, sleep for at least 6 hrs., monitor blood pressure, cholesterol and sugars regularly. However, it is always better to get yourself checked with an ECG, ECHO and TMT before you plan to start a structured exercise pattern.
(The author is Consultant – Heart Failure Specialist & Interventional Cardiologist).