One of the main reasons many of us exercise is to dodge America’s number one killer, heart disease.
For decades we’ve known that exercise is good for heart health. But we’ve never known exactly how much is best.
A new study may finally provide an answer.
Researchers from several Texas universities collaborated on the research.
They gathered 102 volunteers over age 60. First, they asked them detailed questions about their exercise history over the last 25 years.1
Then they divided the subjects into four exercise categories:
- Sedentary. Fewer than two exercise sessions per week
- Casual. Two to three sessions
- Committed. Four to five sessions
- Master Athletes. Six to seven sessions
The researchers then used a sophisticated exercise stress test to analyze the subjects’ heart health. They measured blood flow and arterial wall stiffness in the participants’ middle-sized and large central arteries.2
Inflexible arteries and reduced blood flow are markers of heart disease. They are signs of aging and are precursors to heart attacks and strokes.
Not surprisingly, the sedentary group scored the lowest for flexibility and flow in both medium and large arteries.
Casual exercisers had healthy mid-sized arteries. But their larger ones showed stiffness and reduced flow.
But committed exercisers—people who did four to five workouts a week—had “younger” arteries. There was less stiffening and better blood flow in both sizes of blood vessels.
Surprisingly, the master exercise group had no better arterial health than the committed group. In other words, when it comes to heart health, you don’t get more benefit if you exercise more than five sessions a week.
The study findings recently were presented in The Journal of Physiology.
The Best Kind of Exercise for Your Heart
The study did not determine the best type of exercise. But previous research has found that high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is the most efficient workout for your heart.
Sessions can be as short as 20 minutes. But they still bring greater heart benefits than long hours of jogging or other kinds of traditional time-consuming workouts.
HIIT promotes heart health by raising your aerobic capacity about eight times faster than more moderate workouts. And research shows that high aerobic capacity—VO2max—is the best predictor or artery and heart health.3
HIIT reduces your risk of stroke by as much as 63%. And it lowers your overall chances for premature death by about 30%.
The basic formula for HIIT is simple. You can do whatever activity you want, as long as it gets your heart pumping. This includes running, biking, swimming, calisthenics, or using a rowing, star climber or elliptical machine.
Warm up for three to five minutes doing your chosen cardio exercise.
Then do the exercise at the highest intensity level you can for the next minute. Slow down for the next minute or two to catch your breath. Then go hard again for another minute.
Repeat this process five to seven times.
Afterward, do the activity for at least two minutes to cool down.
The idea is to push your body as hard as you can for a brief burst, and then allow it to recover.
For maximum heart health, do this brief workout four to five times a week.
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