The heart is perhaps the most vital muscle in the human body. It tirelessly pumps blood, supplies oxygen and nutrients to every cell, and plays a key role in maintaining our overall health.
Unfortunately, many of us neglect it, and recent statistics have revealed an alarming increase in heart-related diseases worldwide. The result is a significant toll on our well-being, particularly for those who live sedentary lifestyles or have pre-existing conditions.
Exercise is a surefire way of fortifying this indispensable organ. Not only will this help enhance cardiac efficiency and endurance, but it will also help maintain a healthy weight a — a factor that can contribute to heart disease (4).
Read on to discover the five best exercises for strengthening your heart and give it the care it deserves to ensure you lead a healthier, happier life.
What Is the Exercise that Strengthens Your Heart?
The one exercise that will strengthen the heart muscle naturally is aerobic activity. Aerobic exercise, which is also known as cardio, is any form of physical activity that increases your heart rate and gets your blood pumping faster.
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity each week (1). That equates to just 30 minutes a day, five days a week. This may sound like a lot, but you can easily break it up into smaller chunks throughout your day.
This recommendation isn’t baseless and understanding what happens in your body when you exercise helps explain why these figures are so important.
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Let’s assume you’re going for a 30-minute brisk walk. Within minutes, your heart rate will increase and blood will be diverted away from non-essential organs to the working muscles.
As you continue walking, your heart will become more efficient at delivering oxygen and nutrients to these muscles, which they need to keep going.
In addition, regular aerobic exercise can trigger physiological changes on a cellular level over time that can benefit the heart.
This increases the density of small blood vessels in your body, which are known as capillaries, and allows the blood to flow more efficiently. Over time, this process can help lower your blood pressure and reduce the load on your heart (4).
Furthermore, exercise also stimulates your body to produce more red blood cells, which carry oxygen throughout the body. This increase in the number of red blood cells improves the delivery of oxygen to all your tissues, which includes your heart (7).
In addition, regular aerobic exercise can reduce other critical risk factors for heart disease, including:
High cholesterol – Regular Aerobic exercise helps increase “good” cholesterol (HDL) levels and reduce “bad” cholesterol (LDL) levels (4).
High blood sugar – Regular physical activity promotes insulin sensitivity, which makes it easier for your cells to use blood sugar for energy. This also helps regulate blood sugar levels (4).
Stress – Exercise is a fantastic stress reliever. It increases the production of feel-good hormones known as endorphins, which help improve your mood and reduce stress levels (6).
Now that we’ve established the importance of aerobic exercise in strengthening heart health, let’s take a look at the top five exercises you should incorporate into your routine.
Walking may well be the best exercise for the heart, simply because it’s accessible and requires no special equipment. Brisk walking is an excellent form of moderate aerobic activity that anyone can do, regardless of their age or fitness level.
To get the most out of your walks:
- Aim for a pace that increases your heart rate. You should be able to talk, but not sing while you walk.
- Pump your arms to increase the intensity and burn more calories.
- Start with a 10-15 minute walk and gradually increase it to 30 minutes or more each day.
- If you have joint issues or trouble walking, you should consider using a treadmill or elliptical machine.
Cycling, either outdoors or on a stationary bike, is an ideal low-impact aerobic exercise that can benefit your heart and overall health. It is considered to be the best exercise for heart disease prevention as it minimizes the stress that is placed on the joints while also providing a challenging workout.
To get the most out of your cycling routine:
- Adjust the resistance to challenge yourself and maximize calorie burn.
- Incorporate interval training, alternating between intense bursts of speed and slower periods of rest.
- Try different routes or add hills for a more challenging ride.
If you’re looking to strengthen heart muscles naturally with a workout that’s easy on the joints, swimming is an excellent choice. In fact, most seniors can avoid chronic health conditions by swimming for a minimum of 30 minutes daily.
Here’s how you can make the most out of your swim:
- Start with a warm-up and gradually increase the intensity over time.
- Incorporate different strokes to work different muscle groups.
- Use pool equipment, such as kickboards or pull buoys, to add resistance and challenge yourself.
In our discussion on calories burned by heart rate, we identified running as being the most efficient form of cardio exercise. We’ve discussed this in our normal heart rate after exercise article.
It may be one exercise for heart blockage (which is a medical condition, so consult your doctor before you start a running routine) that provides the most benefits in the shortest amount of time (3).
To make the most out of your run:
- Invest in a good pair of running shoes to protect your joints and feet.
- Gradually increase the intensity and distance over time to avoid injury.
- Incorporate interval training for maximum calorie burn and endurance building.
Finally, dancing is an enjoyable way of getting your heart rate up and improving heart health in 30 days. We’ve previously mentioned that enjoying your workout can make it easier to stick to, and dancing is a perfect example of this.
To get the most benefits out of dancing:
- Choose styles that incorporate quick movements and keep you moving at a moderate intensity.
- Join a dance class or find online tutorials for added structure and variety.
- Don’t worry about getting every step right at first, just have fun!
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What Are the 7 Best Workouts for Heat Health?
Although aerobic exercises are essential for a healthy heart, strength training and flexibility exercises must also be incorporated into your routine. The AHA recommends a minimum of two days of strength training each week and incorporating stretching exercises or activities such as yoga or Pilates regularly.
Strength training can improve heart health in several ways:
- It helps build and maintain lean muscle mass, which can increase metabolism and help with weight management. Research has shown that being overweight or obese is linked to an increased risk of heart disease (14).
- It can reduce blood pressure, lower LDL cholesterol levels, and improve insulin sensitivity (14) .
- It can also help improve balance and coordination, reducing the risk of falls and injuries during exercise. This allows you to push yourself safely and test your limits.
Flexibility exercises can also benefit your heart health by:
- Reducing the risk of injury during exercise and daily activities.
- Improving posture and reducing muscle tension, which can contribute to cardiovascular issues if it is left unaddressed (9).
- Promoting relaxation and reducing stress levels, can help improve overall heart health (9).
Below are seven of the best workouts that combine strength and flexibility training to keep your heart healthy and strong:
High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
HIIT involves short bursts of high-intensity exercises followed by periods of rest or low-intensity exercises. This type of training has been proven to improve cardiovascular fitness, increase metabolism, and burn more calories in a shorter amount of time.
An example HIIT workout can include:
- 30 seconds of burpees followed by 30 seconds of rest.
- 30 seconds of mountain climbers followed by 30 seconds of rest.
- Repeat this circuit for a total of 10 minutes.
As Many Rounds As Possible (AMRAP)
Similar to HIIT, AMRAP involves completing as many rounds of a set of exercises as possible within a specific time frame. This workout can easily be modified for different fitness levels and can also be done with or without equipment.
Assuming that you can complete 10 push-ups in a row, you should try to complete as many rounds of the following circuit in 15 minutes:
- 10 push-ups
- 20 squats
- 30 jumping jacks
Circuit training involves the completion of a series of exercises with little or no rest in between. It can be done with equipment or as body-weight exercises and is an effective way of building strength, endurance, and cardiovascular fitness.
An example circuit workout can include:
- Four rounds of 10 push-ups
- 10 lunges (each leg)
- 10 bicep curls
- 30-second plank
- Repeat for a total of four sets, with minimal rest in between exercises.
Power Yoga Sequence
Yoga is excellent for both the mind and body, but practicing power yoga can provide an excellent cardio workout in addition. This type of yoga involves faster-paced movements and transitions, which makes it more challenging and beneficial for heart health.
An example power yoga sequence can include five rounds of the following:
- Downward facing dog
- Upward facing dog
- Repeat this sequence continuously for 5 minutes.
Strength Training with Supersets
Supersets involve performing two exercises back-to-back with little or no rest in between. They can help improve strength, muscle endurance, and cardiovascular fitness all at once.
An example supersets workout can include three sets of the following:
- 10 bicep curls
- 10 shoulder presses
- Rest for 30 seconds, then repeat for a total of three sets.
Pilates Circuit Training
Pilates is a low-impact exercise that focuses on core strength, flexibility, and body awareness. By incorporating a circuit training format with Pilates exercises, you can get the benefits of both cardio and strength training.
An example Pilates circuit workout can include three rounds of the following circuit:
- 10 bicycle crunches
- 10 plank knee tucks
- 10 side plank dips (each side)
- Rest for 30 seconds between sets.
Rowing Machine Intervals
The rowing machine is an excellent option for a full-body, low-impact workout that can improve cardiovascular endurance and build strength. By incorporating intervals into your rowing routine, you can increase the intensity and get more benefits for your heart health.
An example rowing interval workout could include:
- Five minutes of rowing at a moderate pace.
- 30 seconds of rowing at a high intensity, followed by 30 seconds of rest.
- Repeat this pattern for a total of 10 minutes.
How Do You Strengthen a Weak Heart with Diet?
The phrase “weak heart” may refer to various heart conditions, including heart failure or a weakened heart muscle. While medications and medical treatments play important roles in the management of these conditions, making dietary changes can also help support overall heart health.
Here are some of the best foods for strengthening heart muscle to prevent and potentially reverse heart disease:
Fatty Fish: Salmon, mackerel, and sardines are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega 3 fatty acids can help to reduce inflammation and improve heart health (10).
Leafy Greens: Kale, spinach, and other leafy greens are rich in phytochemicals, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Intake of these vegetables may provide cardiovascular benefits, support healthy blood pressure levels, and reduce the risk of heart disease (5).
Berries: Blueberries, strawberries, and other berries are packed with antioxidants that can help improve blood flow, reduce inflammation, and protect against heart disease (2).
Whole Grains: Oats, quinoa, and other whole grains are high in fiber and other nutrients that can lower LDL cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease (8).
Nuts: Walnuts, almonds, and other nuts are rich in heart-healthy fats, protein, and fiber and can support heart health and reduce the risk of heart disease (12).
Superfoods: Garlic, turmeric, and ginger are often considered superfoods that can help improve heart health due to their potential to play a role in reducing inflammation, lowering cholesterol levels, and improving blood flow (13).
To strengthen a weak heart with your diet, it’s also essential that you limit or avoid foods that are high in saturated and trans fats, added sugars, and sodium (11).
Such foods include:
- Ultra-processed and fried foods
- Red meat
- Sugary drinks and snacks
These can increase the risk of heart disease, weight gain, and high blood pressure.
Does walking make your heart stronger?
Yes, walking can make the heart stronger. It works by increasing blood flow and oxygen supply to the heart, which can improve cardiovascular fitness and reduce the risk of heart disease. Walking can also help you maintain a healthy weight and can lower blood pressure levels, which further supports heart health.
What are the signs of a weak heart?
It may be difficult to determine if you have a weak heart without a proper diagnosis from a doctor. However, some common symptoms of weakened heart muscle include:
- Shortness of breath during physical activity
- Fatigue and weakness when performing everyday tasks
- Swollen feet, ankles, or legs
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat
If you experience any of these symptoms, you should consult a doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment.
How long does it take to strengthen your heart?
Strengthening your heart (which may refer to improving overall heart health or recovering from a specific heart condition) is an ongoing process that can take months or even years, depending on individual factors including diet, exercise habits, and any underlying health conditions.
What should you not do with a weak heart?
If you’ve been diagnosed with a weak heart (which could mean having an existing heart condition or being at high risk for one), there are certain things you should avoid in order to protect your heart and overall health, including:
- Smoking or using tobacco products
- Consuming excessive amounts of alcohol
- Ignoring warning signs and symptoms
- Exercising without consulting a doctor first (particularly if you have an underlying condition)
What drink is best for the heart?
Water is the best drink for heart health. It helps keep you hydrated, reduces the risk of dehydration-related complications such as dizziness or fainting, and supports proper blood flow.
Green tea is also considered to be beneficial for heart health due to its high antioxidant content. You should limit your intake of sugary drinks, alcohol, and caffeine-containing beverages to ensure optimal heart health.
The Bottom Line
Incorporating aerobic exercise into your routine is essential for maintaining a healthy heart. Not only will it help improve your heart’s efficiency and reduce the risk of disease, it also has numerous other health benefits. With a variety of options to choose from, you can find an exercise that suits your preferences and matches your fitness level.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- American Heart Association Recommendations for Physical Activity in Adults and Kids (2018,heart.org)
- Berries: emerging impact on cardiovascular health (2011,nih.gov)
- Cardiovascular aspects of running (1985,nih.gov)
- Cardiovascular Effects and Benefits of Exercise (2018,nih.gov)
- Cardiovascular Health Benefits of Specific Vegetable Types: A Narrative Review (2018,nih.gov)
- Exercise and stress: Get moving to manage stress (2022,mayoclinic.org)
- Effects of exercise training on red blood cell production: implications for anemia (2012,nih.gov)
- Effects of whole grains on coronary heart disease risk (2010,nih.gov)
- Four Types of Exercise Can Improve Your Health and Physical Ability (2021,nih.gov)
- Heart-Healthy Eating: Fish (2022,healthlinkbc.ca)
- Heart-Healthy Foods: Shopping List (2023,health.gov)
- Nuts and Cardiovascular Disease Outcomes: A Review of the Evidence and Future Directions (2023,nih.gov)
- Selected Health Benefits of Spices (Garlic, Ginger, Turmeric) (2022,heraldopenaccess.us)
- Strength training improves submaximum cardiovascular performance in older men (2019,nih.gov)