The Best Exercises for Cardiovascular Health

Exercise is an extremely beneficial lifestyle implement for a variety of reasons. Not only does it increase bone density, build lean muscle tissue, and burn fat, but it also increases muscular strength, promotes cardiovascular health, and even improves mental health.

Ideally, exercise should be used as a proactive and preventative method for reducing the risk of early onset health conditions and diseases such as cardiovascular disease. Yet, it can also be just as effective as a reversal management and additional treatment strategy for medical conditions under the supervision of a health professional.

In what follows, we’ll be detailing the importance of exercise for cardiovascular health, sharing several exercise modalities and strategies for accomplishing just that. More specifically, we’ll discuss the importance of increasing heart rate during exercise and why monitoring heart rate is key for safe and effective exercise.

Heart Health

The prevalence of cardiovascular disease alone is profound, impacting nearly 83 million Americans annually; that’s upwards of 7% of the United States population ages 20 and above. Further, nearly 50% of all Americans live with at least one associated risk factor.

Comprising heart disease, stroke, and associated conditions, cardiovascular disease has several risk factors, signs, and symptoms, ranging in severity from mild to severe.

The leading risk factors for cardiovascular disease include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, diabetes, and smoking. Of these most common causes, several are attributed to poor lifestyle decisions, inclusive of a poor diet and physical inactivity.

To combat the risk of heart disease and to improve overall heart health, then, establishing a regular and consistent exercise regimen in combination with a healthy diet is imperative.

The Importance of Exercise for Heart Health

It’s no surprise that exercise is a generally healthy practice, both for the heart and body. While many understand this as fact, not many understand why or how exercise is so beneficial on a physiological and biological level.

Through the act of intense exercise and physical activity, the muscles being used uptake oxygen from the blood. With increased exercise, these muscles will extract oxygen more efficiently from the blood, and this results in reduced need for additional blood to these muscles.

The reason that this is notable is that these exercise effects will eventually reduce overall heart rate and blood pressure. The exercise also reduces the release of stress hormones, thus further reducing the burden on the heart.

In order for exercise to truly be effective, however, effort and intensity are required in combination with commitment, dedication, and consistency. Similarly, there are superior ways to exercise, and these will be discussed next.

High-Intensity Interval Training

HIIT is a popular training methodology that utilizes high-intensity efforts in collaboration with short rest periods to elicit a unique stimulus shown to burn more calories in less time, requiring only 4-30 minutes of exercise to see results.

Withstanding its caloric expenditure benefits, high-intensity interval training is also incredibly beneficial to cardiovascular health, promoting weight loss, reduced stress levels, and improved blood biomarkers (heart rate and blood pressure) in the process.

Targeting no particular muscle during its implementation, HIIT results instead in a full body workout, helping build strength across all muscular tissue, including the most important muscle in the body; the heart!

Resistance Strength Training

Primarily accomplished through resistance training via weightlifting, strength training seeks to build lean muscle tissue through strategies such as hypertrophy, progressive overload, and time-under-tension to increase overall muscular strength ultimately.

While it’s important to build strength across the entirety of the body’s muscular tissue, focusing first on the largest muscles of the body (i.e., the legs) will produce the most immediate and noticeable results.

Contrary to popular belief, strength training isn’t only superior at building strength and size but also at burning fat as well. By increasing the intensity of each strength training session, more calories can be burned, more weight can be lost, and more strength can be gained. The ultimate outcome, then, is both a stronger and healthier body and, more importantly, a stronger and healthier heart.


Whether on a stationary bike or along the open road, cycling is a beloved cardiovascular activity, not only for its sheer enjoyment and effectiveness but because of its generally low-impact nature on both the muscles, tendons, and ligaments of the body.

Increasing both strength, cardiovascular health, and overall fitness capacity, particularly of the legs, cycling is a markedly beneficial exercise.

Because it’s primarily a lower body workout, however, and with the option of “cruising” rather than giving 100% effort, it’s important to seek out cycling routes that involve intensity and difficulty to experience the true benefits. The most beneficial routes include higher elevations and hilly terrains.


Like cycling, swimming is a superior exercise modality for those seeking low-impact environments to reduce the risk of injury while increasing overall fitness capacity via strength building and cardiovascular improvements.

Again, similar to cycling, swimming can also be a leisure activity. It’s important, then, to seek out challenges via increasing duration, increasing intensity and effort, and implementing a variety of swimming techniques.

Contrary to popular belief, increasing heart rate is the single best way to improve overall cardiovascular health and strength, and swimming accomplishes this goal extremely well.

Monitor Heart Rate

While implementing a regular and effort-based exercise regimen is certainly the first and most effective step to improving heart health, it’s also important to monitor heart rate to ensure that safe and optimal levels are being reached.

Measuring heart rate not only gives insight into fitness capacity and current heart health status but also acts as a road map to achievement in a safe and optimal manner. 

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, the goals of cardiovascular exercise should be to achieve a gradual increase in heart rate during exercise, achieve heart rate variability throughout the exercise, and eventually achieve a lower resting heart rate to promote overall heart health.

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