A man runs on a treadmill while a screen displays information about his heart

Which Exercise Is Best for Your Heart?

Ready to have a change of heart? Regular exercise is a crucial factor for lowering your risk of developing cardiovascular disease, but did you know it can also remodel the structure of this important organ? Get ready to learn how a steady fitness routine can transform your heart and your health! 

How Regular Exercise Affects Your Heart

You know your heart rate increases when you’re in the middle of an intense workout, but do you know why? Your muscles require more oxygenated blood as they work hard, so your heart must pump more blood throughout the body. When this process happens regularly, your heart becomes bigger and stronger. Therefore, it becomes more efficient at sending blood and doesn’t have to pump as quickly. This is why athletes tend to have lower-than-average resting heart rates

These results are most profound in the left ventricle, a chamber at the bottom of the heart. The left ventricle fills with blood and twists to send it throughout the body every time the heart pumps. As you exercise more, your left ventricle becomes stronger, bigger, and more efficient at sending oxygenated blood out. 

Do Different Activities Have Distinct Results for the Heart? 

Your sport of choice has its own way of remodeling your heart. Athletes’ left ventricles tend to fill up with blood and pump it out faster than those of sedentary people. In cardio-based sports, athletes typically have strong, flexible left ventricles, but there are even differences within this category. One study sought to discover the differences between the hearts of swimmers and runners. The runners in the study tended to have more efficient hearts compared to the swimmers, possibly because runners’ hearts have to work harder against gravity. 

Weight lifters tend to have very thick ventricles as most weight-lifting positions cause the muscles to constrict the blood vessels. The heart has to work against these narrowed vessels and continue to pump blood throughout the body, which causes the heart to become stronger and thicker. The same is true for athletes that use a lot of power, such as rowers. However, this added strength can make the heart less flexible when pumping.  

The Best Exercise for Improving Heart Health

Now you’re probably wondering which exercise you should focus on for optimal heart health. In reality, the best workout is one that you enjoy doing. This will increase your likelihood of participating regularly, which can have many health benefits. If you’re not sure where to start, try a refreshing LISS workout, or opt for an energetic HIIT workout if you’re feeling brave. Always consult your primary care physician before beginning a new fitness regimen

If you’re looking to improve your overall well-being, schedule an appointment with your Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Group primary care physician to determine simple lifestyle changes that can help you prevent chronic disease. They can also help you learn more about your cardiovascular health and refer you to a Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Group cardiologist for more resources if necessary. Now lace up those sneakers, and say hello to a healthier heart!

 

Sources: 
The New York Times | The Heart of a Swimmer vs. the Heart of a Runner
Active | How Does Exercise Affect Your Heart?
The Harvard Gazette | Exercise changes structure of heart
Frontiers | Left Ventricular Structure and Function in Elite Swimmers and Runners
NCBI | Endurance Exercise-Induced Cardiac Remodeling: Not All Sports Are Created Equal.
NCBI | The effects of long-term aerobic exercise on cardiac structure, stroke volume of the left ventricle, and cardiac output
Healthline | Left Ventricle
NCBI | Exercise-Induced Cardiac Remodeling: Lessons from Humans, Horses, and Dogs