Heart-Smart Tips to Tone Your Ticker

by Jenn Myers, Certified Personal Trainer

Ah, February… Love is in the air, and everywhere you turn someone is talking about heart health. That’s because February is National Heart Month. According to the Centers for Disease Control, heart disease is still the leading cause of death in the United States. That makes heart health a pretty timely topic. Very few people would disagree with the notion that a healthy heart is a nice thing to have, but how do we get one or ensure that we maintain the one we’ve got? In honor of cardiac muscles from sea to shining sea, let’s take a look at a few types of exercises that will give your heart the most beat for the buck.

Let’s start with some basics. The type of exercise that has the most benefits for your heart is what we commonly call aerobic exercise. Aerobic exercise, simply put, is steady physical activity using large muscle groups. This type of exercise strengthens your heart and lungs and improves the body's ability to use oxygen. Ideally, 30 minutes a day, five times a week is a reasonable goal, and is the amount recommended by the American Heart Association.  

So what kinds of activity are we talking about here? Here’s the deal, and it shouldn’t feel like rocket science. Any activity that gets your heart thumping and makes you move your body is fair game, and in my opinion FUN should be non-negotiable! Dancing, jogging, Zumba, swimming, hiking, cycling, kickboxing, hula-hooping with your kids… Any one of these will do the trick, but again, the idea is to incorporate these activities as a regular part of your life and do it five days a week or more. Treat it like a prescription drug that your doctor has prescribed to ward off a horrifying disease, and you’ll never miss a dose!

With all of the possibilities, my all-time favorite is still just good old-fashioned walking. It’s enjoyable, especially when you’re jamming to some good tunes. It’s free. It’s easy on your body’s joints. It can be a social activity, and it can involve dogs, which I think gives it bonus points. But, more than all that, walking is simply great exercise. Maybe that’s why walking has the lowest dropout rate of any form of exercise. According to the American Heart Association, for every hour you spend walking, you may be increasing your life expectancy by two hours!

Let’s sum it all up in three simple tips:

1. Move. It doesn't matter how you move… just get after it!

2. Aim for 30 minutes of activity five days a week. Treat exercise like a pill you must take.

3. Have FUN! Your heart will thank you for it.