The best exercise for a healthy heart

Move over, cardio workouts – there may be a better way to strengthen your heart.

Whether it’s shaking your booty in Zumba or hitting the running track, it’s no secret that regular exercise is important for heart health.

But do we need to think more about which type of physical activity we should be doing to keep our tickers in tip-top shape?

US researchers have challenged long-held perceptions that cardio workouts are best for healthy, happy hearts, after studying the health records of more than 4000 adults.

The research found static activities such as weightlifting were better for reducing the risk of heart disease than aerobic exercises like running and cycling.

“Both strength training and aerobic activity appeared to be heart healthy, even in small amounts,” says Professor Maia Smith, of St George’s University in Grenada.

“However, static activity appeared more beneficial than dynamic, and patients who did both types of physical activity fared better than patients who simply increased the level of one type of activity.”

But before you ditch your running shoes …

Australian experts say the over-riding message is for people to get moving – no matter what – as being inactive is a well-established risk factor for heart disease.

“I wouldn’t regard the distinction between static and dynamic as being particularly meaningful,” says Dr Andrew Garnham, of Deakin University’s Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition.

“More importantly, doing both forms of exercise multiplies the benefit, but anything done consistently is useful.”

heart health

Why is heart health important?

Heart disease is the biggest killer in Australia, claiming the lives of 18,590 Australians in 2017 – that’s one person every 28 minutes.

The Heart Foundation says regular physical activity reduces the chance of having a heart attack or developing heart disease by up to 35 per cent.

It can also help prevent heart risk factors like high blood pressure, high cholesterol and being overweight, and manage chronic conditions including some cancers, type 2 diabetes and depression.

The foundation’s director of active living, Adjunct Professor Trevor Shilton, says if your heart isn’t healthy, neither are you.

“The heart is a vital organ,” he says.

“It pumps blood to all parts of the body, providing the oxygen and nourishment it needs to work properly.”

Exercises for a healthy heart

Not a natural athlete? Take heart.

Even taking regular strolls around your neighbourhood, or picking up the garden shears, can help lower the risk of heart attack and stroke.

A research review in the US found even one hour of walking or gardening a week was beneficial.

Prof Shilton says the Heart Foundation recommends 150 minutes or more of moderate intensity or vigorous-intensity activity each week, and muscle-strengthening activities at least two days a week.

Free walking groups and a walking app are among foundation initiatives to help get people motivated.

Written by Elissa Doherty.