Physical activity is essential for heart and mental health. Regular exercise can strengthen the heart, keep your weight under control and ward off artery damage from high cholesterol, high blood sugar and high blood pressure. It can also improve your mood, give you more energy, and ease depression.
What is the impact of regular exercise on the heart specifically?
Lowers blood pressure
Your risk of high blood pressure (hypertension) increases with age, but getting active and exercising can make a big difference. Regular physical activity makes your heart stronger. A strong, healthy heart pushes more blood with each beat, which enables it to function more efficiently with less effort. This decreases stress on the heart and surrounding arteries, which can reduce blood pressure.
Aerobic exercises which may help lower blood pressure, include:
- Active sports, such as tennis or basketball
- Mowing the lawn or gardening
The American Heart Association recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity, or a combination of both, preferably spread throughout the week. Counting your steps will encourage you to increase your activity. Start with 5,000 steps or less, and work your way up to 10,000 steps a day.
Improve blood flow
Circulation, or blood flow, is important for good health. Normal circulation promotes all of our biological systems by delivering oxygen throughout the body. Signs of inadequate circulation include general lethargy, tired or heavy legs, cold fingers and toes, and low energy. Regular cardio-based physical activity can help the heart to achieve improved blood flow in the small vessels around it. When we exercise, the blood vessels in the muscles dilate, resulting in improved oxygenation and greater blood flow.
Cholesterol is a fatty substance we have circulating in our blood. Too much cholesterol can stick to the inside walls of our arteries, narrowing them and increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease. Besides improving your diet, exercising is one of the most effective lifestyle changes you can make to help lower your cholesterol naturally.
Researchers found that exercise helps increase levels of HDL cholesterol, the “good” cholesterol that lowers heart disease risk. HDL cholesterol helps flush the artery-clogging LDL, the “bad” cholesterol, out of your system.
Exercise and Mental Health
The COVID-19 pandemic may be stressful for people. Fear and anxiety about a new disease and the unforeseeable future can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions in both adults and children. Public health actions, such as social distancing and stay-at-home orders, can make people feel isolated and lonely, causing stress and anxiety.
In a panel survey conducted among adults across the United States during June 24-30 of this year, 40.9% of respondents reported at least one adverse mental or behavioral health condition, including symptoms of:
- Anxiety disorder or depressive disorder
- Trauma- and stressor-related disorder related to the pandemic
- Increased substance use to cope with stress or emotions related to COVID-19
From easing symptoms of depression and anxiety to increasing self-esteem, there’s no shortage of mental health benefits from exercise. Here are a few psychological benefits of physical activity that will have you putting on your shoes and heading out the door.
Easing depression and anxiety
Stress and anxiety are a normal part of life, but anxiety disorders are common psychiatric illnesses that affect 40 million adults in the U.S alone. Exercise may help improve anxiety and other related disorders by releasing feel-good endorphins and other natural chemicals that can enhance your sense of well-being. Exercise for health can also take your mind off worries, allowing you to escape from negative thoughts that feed depression and anxiety.
Everyone responds to stress differently. Road rage, sleeping in, binging on TV, procrastinating, or fingernail biting are a few unhealthy ways to cope with stress. Instead, consider more positive ways to combat daily stressors. Even a short 20-minute walk can make a difference when you are feeling overwhelmed and stressed.
Low self-esteem will not allow a person to gratefully acknowledge themselves, which can put someone in the slums and affect their mental health. Thus, it is essential to improve self-esteem and confidence. Exercise is one of the best ways to improve self-esteem. By following a regular exercise regime, you will achieve endurance, weight-loss, and increased muscle, as well as the other psychological benefits mentioned above, which can all add up to a whopping boost of self-esteem.