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Exercise and heart health

Impact of Exercise on your Heart

29 March 2024

With only around one in four Australian adults meeting the physical activity guidelines, most of us could do with adding more exercise into our daily routine.

Whether it’s going on a hike with friends, bike riding with the kids, or taking dance lessons, there’s many ways you can move your body while reaping the heart health rewards.

How does exercise benefit your heart?

Exercise helps to strengthen the heart muscle and blood vessels, which improves the heart’s ability to pump blood and oxygen throughout the body.

Research has shown that regular exercise can help to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease by up to 30 percent.

Exercise can also help to manage heart disease risk factors. This includes:

There are also other benefits of exercise that extend beyond heart health and its risk factors. For example, weight bearing exercise – such as walking or jogging – helps to increase bone density and reduce the risk of osteoporosis and fractures later in life.

How much exercise should I be doing?

Each week you should aim for at least:

This should include muscle strengthening activities, such as lifting weights, push ups etc, at least two days per week.

If you’re just starting out, even a small amount of exercise each week is better than none. Research has shown that people who are currently inactive can gain health benefits from as little as 75 mins per week or less of moderate activity.

Finding it hard to fit in a 30+ minute block of exercise? Research has shown that even short, vigorous activity bursts of three to four minutes throughout the day are associated with a substantially lower risk of premature death.

What is the difference between moderate and vigorous physical activity?

As a guide, moderate activity is any activity that increases your breathing to a point where you can talk, but not sing.

Vigorous activity is activity that causes you to be out of breath after saying a few words.

What types of exercise should I be doing to improve my heart health?

Any type of moderate or vigorous intensity exercise can help strengthen the heart and improve heart health.

The best type of exercise is the one you enjoy doing and are most likely to stick with over the long term.

For aerobic exercise, you could try:

For muscle-strengthening (resistance) exercise, you could try:

Aiming for a combination of aerobic and muscle-strengthening exercises will offer the best outcomes for heart and general health.

Can I exercise if I have heart disease?

Exercise can be beneficial to heart health, even for those with existing heart disease. This will however depend on your individual circumstances. For example, people who have recently had a heart attack or heart surgery may need to avoid exercise for a period of time. However, in general, most people with heart disease should be exercising. To ensure you are doing the appropriate exercise at the right intensity for you, you should discuss exercise with your GP or cardiologist before starting.

If during exercise you feel any symptoms like chest pain, dizziness, or difficulty breathing, you should stop immediately and seek medical attention.

Do I need to monitor my heart rate during exercise?

Your heart rate during exercise can give you an idea of what intensity your heart is working at. While this may be of interest, it is not always necessary unless otherwise advised by your GP or cardiologist e.g. for those with existing heart conditions who may be advised to stay below a certain heart rate during exercise.

The most important thing is that you’re regularly doing physical activity that gets your heart rate up and increases your breathing.

Acknowledgement of Country

The Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute acknowledges Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures; and to Elders past and present.

Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute - The Home of Heart Research for 30 Years