Throughout the majority of human evolution, our ancestors have lived in close relationship to the land. As a matter of survival, this meant to work with the land. Whether as an individual or as a community, vitality has depended on the successful gathering of food and safety of the shelter. For this, people hunted, foraged and gathered food, grew plants, picked fruits, collected water, built homes and villages, and learned some form of survival or self-defense skills. The common theme behind all of these activities was that it required physical movement.

For most of history, physical activity was a requirement for survival. Safe to say, the process of evolution designed the body and mind to enjoy the benefits of such activities regularly. However, the advances and comforts of modern life have caused the recession of this need for activities in our lives.

In America, there is a lot of commercial popularity of Cardio-Aerobic exercise classes and equipment. Then, why is there a growing epidemic of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease? This is our cultural deficiency that makes our population susceptible to these preventable, chronic, and expensive diseases.

Physical activity benefits the person in many ways. Here is a brief review of the benefits:1Myers, J. “Exercise and Cardiovascular Health.” Circ. 2003;107(1).

  1. An elevated breathing rate causes metabolic activity to increase—more oxygen serves as fuel to produce more energy and burn off fat.
  2. Strengthening and toning of muscle tissues—this improves mobility, balance, and overall exercise capacity; the more you do, the more you can do.
  3. Relaxing of blood vessels improves blood flow to all parts—this allows nutrition to reach every cell, and waste is removed more effectively. After exercise, blood vessels remain relaxed, which helps to lower blood pressure.
  4. When we exercise, we use fat to harvest energy—this also promotes conversion of LDL cholesterol (bad) into HDL cholesterol (good), which is further protection from developing plaque in the arteries.
  5. When muscles are activated, they demand energy—this causes improvement of insulin-sensitivity, a result of which is the control or prevention of diabetes.

Exercises to Benefit the Heart

Brisk Walking

The baseline of exercise recommended by the CDC calls for this simple, accessible form of exercise that can be achieved most days: 30 minutes of brisk walking2Myers, J. “Exercise and Cardiovascular Health.” Circ. 2003;107(1). (3–4 mph), 4 to 5 times per week. Similar exercises can include 30 minutes of yard work, swimming, and/or cycling. This moderate level of activity calls for heart rate elevation of 105–130 bpm for 30 minutes per day.

Interval Exercise

Easy Physical Activities for Heart Health: SwimmingThis type of exercise involves short bursts of moderate-to-high intensity exercise with low-intensity exercise intervals.3Harvard Health Publications. “Interval training for a stronger heart.” August 2015. Accessed May 18, 2017. This can be as simple as:

  • Alternating brisk walking: walk at 4–5mph for 2 minutes, then slow down to 2–3mph for 2 minutes, and repeat for 30+ minutes per day.
  • Swimming: after warming up the body, swim one lap as fast as possible; take a break to catch your breath (30 seconds to 1 minute); repeat. Continue this for 30 minutes.
  • Exercise machines: treadmill and elliptical machines have interval settings, and the speed can be adjusted to individual tolerance level. For example, perform 2 minutes of brisk walking (3–4 mph), then 2 minutes of jogging (6+ mph), and repeat for 30 minutes.

Yoga

Easy Physical Activities for Heart Health: YogaThis discipline is becoming increasingly common in metropolitan centers, and elsewhere, it is accessible through online classes. Yoga requires holding non-conventional postures for a period of 5 to 20 breaths. The exercise combines the benefits of calisthenics, breathing exercise, and meditation. As a result, yoga helps to improve mental/emotional relaxation, promote muscle tone and balance, and enhance insulin sensitivity.4Jayasinghe, SR. Yoga in cardiac health: A Review. Eur J Card Prev Rehab. 2004;11(5):369–375. Two interesting studies:

  1. Up to 1 hour of daily practice of yoga has been shown to significantly strengthen, improve balance, and reduce blood pressure within 11 weeks.5Murugesan R, Govindarajalu N, Bera TK. Effect of selected yogic practices in the management of hypertension. Indian J Physiol Pharmacol. 2000;44:207–210.
  2. Three months of regular yoga practice helped to reduce body mass index (BMI), LDL (bad) cholesterol, and clotting factor fibrinogen.6Schmidt T, Wijga A, Von Zur Muhlen A, et al. Changes in Cardiovascular risk factors and hormones during a comprehensive residential three month kriya yoga training and vegetarian nutrition. Acta Phys Scand Suppl. 1997;161:158–162.

Wrapping Up

Exercise is intentional movement. When we exercise, we have the opportunity to stimulate our body’s strengthening and regenerative mechanisms. Additionally, exercise has the ability break up the monotony of mental thought processes and free us from the stress of the daily grind. The result is mental and emotional relaxation. In this way, exercise is medicine for the body and the mind. Ultimately, it benefits heart health by improving cardiovascular capacity, reducing the risk of developing heart disease and diabetes as well as lowering mental/emotional stress.

References   [ + ]

1, 2. Myers, J. “Exercise and Cardiovascular Health.” Circ. 2003;107(1).
3. Harvard Health Publications. “Interval training for a stronger heart.” August 2015. Accessed May 18, 2017.
4. Jayasinghe, SR. Yoga in cardiac health: A Review. Eur J Card Prev Rehab. 2004;11(5):369–375.
5. Murugesan R, Govindarajalu N, Bera TK. Effect of selected yogic practices in the management of hypertension. Indian J Physiol Pharmacol. 2000;44:207–210.
6. Schmidt T, Wijga A, Von Zur Muhlen A, et al. Changes in Cardiovascular risk factors and hormones during a comprehensive residential three month kriya yoga training and vegetarian nutrition. Acta Phys Scand Suppl. 1997;161:158–162.