The American Heart Association, or AHA, recommends regular physical activity to keep your heart in optimal condition and prevent certain diseases of the circulatory system. Regular exercise helps reduce your chances of atherosclerosis -- also known as hardening of the arteries -- improves your heart’s ability to pump, and helps keep your veins and arteries toned. The AHA recommends combining aerobic exercise with resistance exercises for the greatest cardiovascular benefit. Check with your doctor to determine the best exercise for you.
Your cardiovascular fitness level determines how efficiently your body circulates blood to your organs. If you are at a low level of physical fitness, increase the efficiency of your circulatory system slowly. Maximum oxygen consumption, also called VO2 max, is the maximum amount of oxygen a person can take in while performing aerobic exercises using large muscles; it is considered the best measure of cardiovascular fitness. Physical activity increases your VO2 max, whereas a sedentary lifestyle can reduce it by up to 25 percent in just a matter of weeks.
Walking and Jogging
If you are in reasonably good health, walking, jogging or running offers an inexpensive way to get regular aerobic exercise. Because you don’t need special equipment or a specific location, hitting the trail for 20 to 30 minutes three to five times per week can improve your circulation, increase your stamina, ward off acute and chronic illnesses and improve your mood. Depending on your age, level of fitness and medical condition, walking can offer moderate to intense aerobic exercise. Running and jogging, while fraught with a higher rate of injury, offers intense exercise in a shorter amount of time. Running burns more calories than walking the same distance. While rare, sudden cardiac deaths have occurred in marathon runners.
Swimming uses the large muscle groups of your upper body to raise your heart rate for a sustained period of time. This type of aerobic exercise can add variety to your routine and is ideal if you have joint pain or a medical condition that prohibits higher-impact exercise. To get the maximum circulatory benefit, swim for 30 to 60 minutes three to five times per week.
In 2007, the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association published updated guidelines specifically incorporating strength training as part of a cardiovascular fitness program for healthy adults. The guidelines recommend performing eight to 12 repetitions of eight to 10 strength-training exercises twice a week. Strength training includes weightlifting, isometric and other types of resistance exercises. Learn proper technique from a qualified fitness specialist before you attempt a strength-training program.
- "Circulation"; Exercise Standards for Testing and Training; Gerald Fletcher, et al.; June 2001
- MayoClinic.com; Aerobic Exercise: Top 10 Reasons to Get Physical; February 2011
- Harvard Health Publications: Walking: Your Steps to Health
- "Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise"; Energy Expenditure of Walking and Running: Comparison with Prediction Equations; C. Hall, et al.; December 2004