‘Steady Increase Exercise’ Is the Best for Your Heart—Here Are 6 Steps That Make It Easy

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Photo: Getty Images/Alistair Berg
When you start an exercise routine from scratch, the tendency can be to go all in. (HIIT! Strength training! Spinning! Running!) A massive new review of past scientific research conducted by the American Heart Association (AHA) finds that going from 0 to 100 with your workouts just might backfire, though. Slow and steady wins the race when it comes to exercising for your heart health.

Upon reviewing more than 300 scientific studies, writers of a scientific statement considering the health factors of exercise found that physically active people have up to 50 percent lower risk of sudden heart attack or cardiac arrest. After taking a closer look at the data, however, the team of scientists concluded that those still ramping up their fitness routine could likely benefit from steadily increasing their activity levels rather than, say, running 26.2 the day after running their very first mile.

As evidence, the researchers sited the fact that first-time participants accounted for about 40 percent of cardiac incidents among first-time triathlon participants and that about half of cardiac events occur during the final mile of a half-marathon or full-marathon. To boot, their research revealed the importance of acclimating to a given climate before doing the same workout you would at home. When compounded, all of this info led to the conclusion that, in the words of Barry Franklin, PhD, director of preventive cardiology and cardiac rehabilitation at Beaumont Health: “It is important to start exercising—but go slow, even if you were an athlete in high school."

To help you get the specifics on starting exercise the heart-healthy way, the AHA has six recommendations. Ready?

The steps you need to learn steady increase exercise for a healthy heart

1. Warm up before you really get started

We've all been guilty of skipping a warm once or twice (...or many more times), but the heart experts highly recommend it. Warm up before exercise by doing the planned activity—such as walking—at a slower pace to let your heart rate rise gradually," instructs the AHA.

Runners, here's your warm up:

2. Start your workouts on a flat incline

"Walk on a level surface for six to eight weeks, progressing to walking up hills, jogging, or taking part in more vigorous activities as long as no symptoms occur such as shortness of breath, lightheadedness, chest pain or chest pressure," says the AHA.

This workout will take you less than eight minutes:

3. Start with just 5 to 10 minutes

You don't need to spend an hour at the gym to feel the physical and mental effects. Take a note from the folks of the Blue Zones, and try longevity-boosting workout bursts throughout the day.

4. Try lower intensity exercises in environments that are harder on your heart

"Lower the intensity of your exercise when environmental conditions place a greater strain on the heart, such as high humidity or high altitude to which you are not accustomed," recommends the AHA. That run is going to be way harder in 5-degree weather than 65-degree weather, so treat your body with respect.

5. Always, always, always cool down

Make sure to bookend your workout with a cool down to match your warm up. "Cool down after exercise by walking at a slow pace to let your heart rate return to normal," says the AHA.

Here's a stretch to help you cool down:

Step 6: Talk to your doctor if things don't feel right

This one may seem like kind of a given, but make sure you're talking out your new routine with the healthcare provider in your life. "Stop and seek medical evaluation if you experience any heart-related symptoms such as lightheadedness, shortness of breath, or chest pain or pressure," says the AHA.

It's so, so important to switch up your workouts—here's why. And just in case you're confused by the weight room, consider this your ultimate guide

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