The tiny human heart is what pumps blood and oxygen around the whole body and keeps us alive, making it our most vital organ.
Have you ever thought about it as a muscle in the same way you do our other muscles?
When we don’t exercise enough, we lose muscle and tone, and our arms, for example, become weaker. This also happens with the heart. A sedentary lifestyle is one of the major risk factors for heart (cardiovascular) disease. Without regular physical exercise, the body starts to lose strength and stamina and is not as efficient at absorbing oxygen when it is under strain. This is why we become so out of breath when we are unfit.
Exercise makes your heart stronger, allowing it to pump more blood (therefore oxygen) around the body with each heartbeat. It helps to ward off artery damage from high cholesterol, high blood sugar and high blood pressure that can lead to a heart attack or stroke.
It can reduce levels of “bad” cholesterol (LDL) which can clog arteries and, instead can raise levels of “good”cholesterol (HDL) which helps to protect the heart by carrying fatty deposits out of the arteries.
Exercising regularly can improve many factors linked to cardiovascular health, including:
- Healthier cholesterol levels
- Improved blood pressure
- Reduced chance of heart disease and strokes
- Improved lung health leading to reduced breathlessness
- Improved circulation
- Improved blood sugar regulation (reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes).
Physical exercise also helps to manage weight too. Extra weight on the body causes strain on the heart, making it work harder to reach all areas of the body. In addition to healthy eating and not smoking, activity is therefore crucial for preventing heart disease.
Aerobic exercise is the best way to get your heart pumping as it causes you to breathe deeply. Doctors recommend at least 150 minutes per week (30 minutes per day x5 days as an example) of moderate activity. These exercises improve the muscles’ ability to draw oxygen from the circulating blood.
Examples of aerobic exercise include walking, jogging, running, dancing, swimming, and cycling.
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Nystoriak MA, Bhatnagar A. (2018). Cardiovascular Effects and Benefits of Exercise. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6172294/
Zachariah G, Alex A G. (2017). Exercise for prevention of cardiovascular disease: Evidence-based recommendations. Available at: http://www.jcpconline.org/article.asp?issn=2250-3528;year=2017;volume=6;issue=3;spage=109;epage=114;aulast=Zachariah