While doctors may never agree on a “best” workout to improve heart health, they will all attest to the fact that fitness is a powerful and effective way of combating cardiac disease. Of course, exercise only works when a person is willing to commit to making it a routine.
With the help of Kameswari Maganti, medical director of cardiac rehabilitation at Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute, we’ve created a workout checklist to ensure accountability, improve heart health and set you up for success. According to Maganti, “Exercise and lifestyle changes are a crucial part of prevention and recovery from heart disease.”
When it comes to heart health, Maganti emphasizes there is no single training regimen that will work for everyone, because everyone is so different—as are the manifestations heart disease. However, motivating yourself to workout—whatever the workout may be—and finding a workout you will stick with is key.
Maganti shared the following workout checklist to help women get the most heart-healthy effects from their workout:
1. Be accountable.
Maganti has learned that when she holds her patients accountable, they have much higher success rates at sticking to a fitness routine. She suggests that women find an app or online tool, such as the American Heart Association’s free Activity Tracker to track their progress or keep a monthly written log of what they’ve done. Personal trainers are also an effective, albeit expensive, way to keep accountable.
2. Establish a routine.
Working out becomes easier when it’s an accepted part of your daily life. Maganti says that the first three months are a challenge, but it gets easier after about 90 days. The six-month mark is something to truly celebrate. She says that after this amount of time, the routine is solidly established and women are more likely to stick with it.
3. Walk it off.
Walking doesn’t require a gym, it doesn’t require a new wardrobe, it’s free and nearly everyone can do it. Start by trying a brisk walk at least 15 minutes a day several times per week. The more you walk, the more health benefits you’ll likely experience.
4. Find a moderate activity you love.
The American Heart Association recommends you spend at least two and a half hours a week engaging in some moderate exercise (you can combine this with vigorous exercise, see below).
There are many to choose from, and Maganti emphasizes the importance of finding one you enjoy so that you’re more likely to want to do it. She also says it’s important to vary your exercise regimen to avoid muscle strain. For example, if you jog one day, consider swimming or cycling the next. She lists theses moderate exercises as examples: biking on level ground or small hills; general gardening, such as raking leaves and trimming shrubs; sports where you catch and throw, such as baseball, softball and volleyball; doubles tennis; and water aerobics.
5. Find a vigorous activity you love.
The American Heart Association says that you should do at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) a week of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous intensity aerobic activity for health benefits. Vigorous activities include singles tennis, training for a triathlon or running event, soccer, hockey, basketball, heavy gardening (like hoeing and digging), bicycling (faster than 10 miles per hour) and jumping rope.
6. Do strength training.
“I always tell my patients to remember strength training,” says Maganti. She says all adults but especially women should be doing muscle-strengthening activity at moderate or high intentsity a minimum of 20 to 30 minutes a day at least two days a week, making sure to work out all of the major muscle groups. This provides a powerful workout, and also helps prevent osteoporosis. “Strength training increases bone density and muscle mass, and is consistently shown to be a benefit for women,” she says. Try lifting light weights to workout arms and holding light weights while performing leg lifts and squats to workout legs.
7. Try interval training.
Working out in intervals (i.e., alternating the intensity of your exercise in various intervals of time) offers heart benefits and can further help you get in shape. In interval training, the goal is to push yourself into overdrive, entering the anaerobic zone for a brief period of time during your workout, and then slow down to recover, repeating the process six to 10 times. The Mayo Clinic has been utilizing interval workouts even with patients who have suffered a cardiac event. “Interval training has been shown to be of significant benefit,” says Maganti. Be sure to check with your doctor before engaging in interval training.
8. Warm up and cool down.
Start your workout slowly and end your workout with stretching. By easing in and out of your workout, you’re doing your heart a favor. “There is going to be increased oxygen demand, so you slowly want to increase the heart rate,” says Maganti. The gradual increase and decrease also helps protect your muscles from potential strain and injury.
Learn more heart-healthy exercises on Go Red.