Doing an aerobic workout at least 3 times a week is one of the best ways to lower your risk of heart disease and stroke. Exercise exerts its magic on your cardiovascular system in a number of ways, some of which you may not be aware of. Here are six reasons why exercise is heart healthy.
Exercise Improves Blood Vessel Function
One of the changes that occur in early heart disease is a phenomenon called endothelial dysfunction. The lining of your blood vessels normally secrete substances that help them relax. One of these substances is called nitric oxide. In people who have endothelial dysfunction, this system doesn’t work as well as it should. This causes blood vessels to constrict more, which reduces blood and oxygen flow. Research shows that exercise enhances the ability of blood vessels to relax by increasing the production of nitric oxide. This prevents endothelial dysfunction and reduces the risk of a heart attack.
It Increases Your Heart’s Ability to Deliver Oxygen
Another way aerobic exercise improves heart health is by reducing the heart’s workload. With aerobic training, stroke volume or amount of blood and oxygen your heart can deliver with each heartbeat increases. As your aerobic capacity increases, the number of times your heart beats per minute goes down as stroke volume goes up. This means your heart doesn’t have to work as hard to deliver oxygen to tissues. Your heart becomes more efficient at doing its job.
It Raises HDL Levels
HDL is a “good” type of circulating blood lipid that removes cholesterol from peripheral tissues and blood vessel walls and takes it to the liver where it can be broken down. This reduces plaque formation that can lead to heart disease. Research shows that having a high HDL level may be more important than a low LDL level when it comes to heart disease risk. Fortunately, you can increase your HDL levels by doing moderate to vigorous aerobic workouts on a regular basis.
It Helps with Weight Control
Obesity is a risk factor for heart disease, and exercise is a valuable tool for weight loss maintenance. Exercise also increases insulin sensitivity and helps to lower circulating insulin levels. This is important since higher insulin levels are linked with an increased risk of heart disease, not to mention greater amounts of belly fat.
Aerobic Exercise Lowers Blood Pressure
Aerobic exercise also helps to lower blood pressure, another risk factor for heart disease. According to a study published in Annals of Internal Medicine, reduction in blood pressure related to exercise is independent of body weight. Regular aerobic exercise seems to have a direct impact on blood vessel health, possibly by preventing endothelial dysfunction.
It’s a Good Stress Reliever
Who doesn’t feel less stressed after an aerobic workout? Stress is another risk factor for heart disease, although exactly how stress triggers heart attacks isn’t completely understood. People who are “stressed out” have higher levels of some hormones like norepinephrine, epinephrine, and cortisol in their bloodstream, which can elevate blood pressure. There’s also evidence that stress changes the way your blood clots, thereby increasing the risk of a clot that could lead to a heart attack or stroke. Regular exercise can help you get a better handle on stress.
The Bottom Line?
There are lots of good reasons to lace up your exercise shoes and get an aerobic workout. Now you know six more.
Medscape.com. “The Effect of Exercise Training on Endothelial Function in Cardiovascular Disease in Humans”
Am. J. Epidemiol. (1993) 137 (11): 1190-1202.
Annals of Internal Medicine. December 6, 2011, 155 (11)
WebMD. “Heart Disease and Stress”