Did you know February was first designated as American Heart Month my President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1963. Since then, scientists and health experts have learned a lot about how we can strengthen our heart health.
According to the American Heart Association, making healthy diet and lifestyle choices can lower your risk of heart disease by as much as 80 percent. While we’re already at the end of February and American Heart Health month, cardiovascular health is something to keep in mind all year round. That’s why we spoke to some health and fitness experts to find the top exercises you can do to promote a healthy heart.
HIIT or Circuit Training
High Intensity Interval Training
Kyra is a self-employed, NASM certified online personal trainer and nutrition expert, Crossfit Level One Trainer, USA Weightlifting and USA Powerlifting Coach and has helped women all over the world through her online training services and training programs.
For Kyra, HIIT, also known as High Intensity Interval Training, is one of the best workouts you can do at the gym to promote heart health. “HIIT is short intervals of maximum intensity exercise separated by longer intervals of low to moderate recovery work.”
One of the biggest benefits of HIIT is that it is quick. A 20-minute HIIT workout gets your heart going and can burn more fat in less time. “If you only have 20 minutes to work out this is definitely the most effective way to spend it.”
Kyra highlighted the additional benefits of a HIIT workout
Increased aerobic capacity – You can increase the amount of oxygen your body can use, so your overall aerobic capacity can increase faster than with just jogging. In other words, you will feel more comfortable running faster if you are trying to decrease your 5k or even marathon race times.
Metabolic adaptations – Your metabolism tends to increase allowing you to use fat as fuel.
Increased caloric output – [HIIT] increases the number of calories your body burns during & after your exercise session and because it increases the length of time it takes your body to recover from each session.
Increased lactate threshold of muscles – [HIIT] Ability of muscles to sustain more lactic acid buildup.
Anabolic effect – If you eat just a tiny bit more calories than what you burn via natural metabolism & workouts, it allows you to put on muscle not put on fat.
Another fitness expert we spoke to, Cary Raffle, has been a certified personal trainer in New York City since 2004. His recommended exercise for heart health was circuit training.
Most people think of "cardio" or aerobic exercises for heart health, but any activity that raises the heart rate can improve your cardiovascular health. Circuit training, performing a series of exercises with limited rest in between, is a great way to go. The limited rest keeps your heart rate up while you exercise, and also makes for a more efficient workout. In a typical circuit training program, each exercise in the series works a different set of muscles, so that one muscle group rests while a different one is working. A typical circuit for the whole body would be leg/shoulder, back/chest, biceps/triceps. If you want to do more than one set, repeat the pairs before proceeding to the next.
For a more advanced workout, once you're conditioned you can try a peripheral heart action circuit by adding leg exercises to each pair. This forces the body to pump blood from the lower body to the upper body as you work through the circuit, further elevating the heart rate and burning more calories in the progress. A PHA program could be legs/shoulder, back/legs, chest/legs, biceps/legs/triceps.
Elliptical, Treadmill, Swimming
Franklin Antoian, 1 of Shape Magazine's Top 50 Trainers in America and founder of the #1 ranked online personal training website, iBodyFit.com.
For him, the best machines for heart health are the ones that require you to move all parts of your body. Examples include the elliptical or treadmill (as long as you don’t hold on to the sides). “The best way to train your heart is with cardio exercise that involves all (or most) muscles,” explained Franklin. He also recommended swimming as another great exercise for heart health.
Another machine that several health and wellness experts mentioned? The Rowing Machine! Caleb Backe, Health and Wellness Expert for Maple Holistics, explains why:
When it comes to exercising your heart, most people think of running, but there are plenty of other creative workouts to choose from.
Rowing machines are one of the best for boost your heart health at the gym, while also aiding in weight loss and muscle toning. Endurance rowing offers tons of cardiovascular benefits and can be adjusted to meet unique aerobic goals. For example, lowering the tension delivers low-resistance, high-speed rowing to target the heart, lungs, and circulatory systems.
Yoga may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think about gym exercises for heart health. But according to Monica Lam-Feist, maybe it should be…
Monica Lam-Feist, is Fitness Lead at AlgaeCal and ACE Certified Personal Trainer. She told us that a study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology concludes that yoga may improve cardio-metabolic health just as much as conventional exercise - like going for a brisk walk or jog! The study showed that those who took yoga classes lowered their LDL cholesterol by 12 points and took 5 points off their blood pressure. They also lost an average of 5 pounds!
We recommend trying one (or all!) of these workout routines to strengthen your heart. Remember to check with your doctor and a fitness professional before starting any program.
Additional information about the experts that contributed to this article
Kyra – HIIT
NASM certified online personal trainer and nutrition expert, Crossfit Level One Trainer, USA Weightlifting and USA Powerlifting Coach whohas helped women all over the world through her online training services and training programs.
Cary Raffle – Circuit Training
Certified Personal Trainer, MS Exercise Science and Health Promotion, Certified Orthopedic Exercise Specialist.
Caleb Backe – Rowing Machine
Health and Wellness Expert for Maple Holistics.
Franklin Antoian – Cardio Workouts
Personal trainer and founder of the #1 ranked online personal training website, iBodyFit.com.
Monica Lam-Feist – Yoga
Fitness Lead at AlgaeCal, ACE Certified Personal Trainer, B.S. and B.A. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.