We all know that in order to develop strong muscles in our body, we need to exercise. But did you ever consider that your heart is also a muscle? Arguably the most important muscle in your body, the heart also needs to be worked out to stay in tip top shape and keep ticking. If the thought of lacing up and heading out the door for a heart-thumping run gives you panic attacks, no need to stress. Running isn’t for everyone, and there are lots of ways to make your heart strong that don’t involve running—although, that’s also a pretty great way to strengthen your ticker, too!
The best way to improve our cardiovascular health and maintain a strong heart is physical activity. The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise, or 75 minutes a week of vigorous exercise. Your best bet? Thirty minutes a day, five times a week, and a combination of moderate and vigorous exercise. You can even break up your activity into shorter 10-20 minute sessions.
Here are five (non-running) activities to get your heart pumping:
Our bodies are made for walking – it is the easiest and most natural exercise we can do. And all it requires is a comfortable pair of shoes. The key to walking for heart health is to do it regularly, for example, a daily 20-minute walk. To really get your heart pumping, walk as fast you can while still breathing comfortably, and pump your bent arms as you walk.
- Riding a bike
Riding a bike is so much fun when we’re kids that we forget that it can also be a great grown up exercise. Because of its low impact, riding a bike is especially good for those who may have issues with their knees or ankles. Obviously pedaling faster will get your heart pumping more. A stationary bike can give you just as good of a workout, and maybe even better, because it provides you better control over your speed. If you’re biking outside, always wear a helmet!
Like biking, swimming can be a great low impact, non-weight bearing activity to strengthen your heart (and lungs). You might get a better workout if you have access to a swimming pool with lanes, so you can swim laps briskly for an uninterrupted length of time.
- Lifting weights
It might not appear as though lifting weights can get your heart pumping, but resistance training with weights gets blood flowing to your heart just as traditional cardio workouts do. Strength training also builds lean muscle mass, which reduces fat, both of which are excellent for heart health. Extra bonus: you’ll also be strengthening your bones. Try an app or a personal trainer at your gym to get started to learn the proper form for a handful of exercises that target all of your major muscle groups, so you don’t injure yourself.
Like weight training, most people don’t think about yoga as heart healthy exercise. But yoga’s focus on holding postures and flowing movements are great for strength building, toning your muscles, and getting your blood flowing. More vigorous forms of yoga like Ashtanga and Bikram can help you actually work up a real sweat and get your heart rate up like traditional forms of cardiovascular exercise.
At the end of the day, how you decide to strengthen your heart through exercise comes down to choosing an activity you love and sticking with it. Or maybe you can try a new type of exercise each week of the month. Even a little bit—just 20-30 minutes a day—will put you on the path to heart health. Remember to always talk to your doctor before starting any new exercise program, especially if you haven’t worked out in a while.