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The Link Between Exercise and Heart Health (Plus 6 Heart Healthy Exercises to Try)

benefits of exercise on the heart

This February, let’s show a little love for our hardest working muscle: The heart!  

February is recognized as Heart Health Month, a time when everyone can re-focus on their cardiovascular health. And did you know, just a few weekly workouts can improve your heart health? Plus, heart healthy exercises “can also improve mental health problems like depression and stress, which are common but often ignored contributors to cardiovascular problems," according to cardiologist Dr. Aaron Baggish at Harvard Health.

Exercise and heart health go hand-in-hand. But if you’re not yet clear on how heart-focused fitness can positively impact your entire life, let’s unpack nine specific benefits you’ll see within just a few months of regular, heart healthy exercise.

9 Benefits of Exercise on the Heart 

The easiest way to understand why heart healthy exercise is so beneficial is to remember that the heart is a muscle like any other. Think of it as a bicep—stronger muscles mean better performance. A stronger heart muscle means more robust blood circulation, which leads to all sorts of benefits throughout the body. While it would be nearly impossible to list all the benefits of heart healthy exercise, we’ve narrowed it down to a few of our favorites. 


  1. Lower Heart Rate.  A lower heart rate means your heart doesn’t have to work hard to keep blood flowing easily through your veins.  

  2. Lower Blood Pressure. According to the American Heart Association, adding a few heart healthy exercises can help lessen the problem for people with high blood pressure, which is about half of U.S. adults.
  3. Lower Risk of Heart Attack. When your heart pumps blood efficiently with the proper blood pressure, you’re at a much lower risk for heart attack and other heart diseases
  4. Lower Risk of Diabetes. Focusing about two hours a week on a heart healthy fitness routine can drastically lower your risk of diabetes, which affects 11.3% of the U.S. population. But any length of time is a good place to start. Don’t think you have to jump right into two hours each week to succeed.
  5. Maintain a Healthy Weight. A few heart healthy workouts each week have been shown to improve metabolism, making a healthy weight much easier to maintain, combined with a healthy diet. 
  6. Releases Endorphins. When your heart rate elevates, and blood pumps throughout your body, your brain releases chemicals like dopamine, making you happy. Plain and simple.
  7. Better Mental Health. Increased levels of dopamine lead to other mental health benefits, such as lower levels of stress and fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety. As noted above, mental health problems can lead to cardiovascular issues.
  8. Replaces Bad Habits. Starting a heart healthy exercise routine can help you drop negative habits, and help establish a new routine. 
  9. Better Quality of Life. Overall, even a little bit of exercise each week is a healthy way to occupy the brain and care for the body instead of falling into a sedentary lifestyle. 

The truth is, these nine benefits barely scratch the surface of all the advantages just a few exercises a week can offer. Beyond these above, regular cardio of approximately 150 minutes a week, as the American Heart Association recommends, can also lead to better bone health and balance, improved memory, sleep, and cognition, certain pregnancy complications, and a lower risk of several types of cancer. And if 150 minutes seems overwhelming, don’t worry about getting up to that just yet. Starting small is better than not at all! Here are six, simple exercises to get you started. 

6 Simple, Heart Healthy Exercises to Try

It’s clear that exercise offers many benefits to your overall health, but applying it to everyday life can be tricky.

Don’t worry if you’re at a loss for where to begin. Johns Hopkins helps by putting heart healthy exercises into three categories—cardio, strength training, and stretching.

For those who’ve spent the better part of the winter months cozily on the couch, it can be difficult to start getting active again, or possibly for the first time. So we’ve picked six simple heart healthy activities accessible for beginners:

1. Cardio: Walking

Aerobic exercise, like walking at a brisk pace, is a simple way to get the benefits of heart healthy exercise regularly. A 15-minute walk around the block or on a treadmill a few times a week will build physical benefits.

2. Cardio: Swimming

A low-impact cardio exercise such as swimming is a great way to get off the couch after a slow winter season. If you have access to an indoor or heated pool and can get in twice a week for an hour, your heart will thank you. 

3. Cardio: Cycling

Many Americans go cycling to get their cardio each week. A half-hour session on an exercise bike a few evenings a week, or biking as an active replacement for your daily commute, can keep heart disease in check. 

4. Strength Training 

Aerobic exercise isn’t the only kind of exercise your heart needs. You also want your muscles to strengthen through resistance training. This type of workout usually requires weights or incorporates body-resistance exercises like pushups or pullups. Check out this example of a five-minute, full-body strength workout.

5. Stretching

Stretching is an indirect way to affect your heart health—it improves your blood flow and lowers blood pressure. You can increase flexibility regularly through a few easy stretches each day and before or after other types of exercise. Stretching is beneficial for overall health to maintain mobility and keep other diseases at bay as you age.

6. Rest

Of course, no one should always be working out. Rest days are an important part of any exercise regime, allowing our bodies to repair, recover, build muscle, and restore energy. As you set your sights on improving heart health, remember to listen to your body and exercise at your own pace. Work out at your own comfort level. Whether you are a beginner to fitness or coming back from a hiatus, you don’t need to (and shouldn’t) move straight from zero weekly cardio activities to 150 minutes a week. It’s better to start small and grow gradually rather than over-extend yourself early on. 

FREE Healthy Heart Collection

Since February is Heart Health Month, we’re showing our Planet Fitness love with a FREE Healthy Heart Collection on the PF App. Ranging from cardio to yoga to strength—each workout benefits heart health, boosts mood, and increases energy! Also included in the collection are two heart health educational videos to help you determine your target heart rate and more.

Not sure where to start? Here is one heart healthy workout to get you going in just 20 minutes:

20-Minute Total Body Toning with Kelly

You don’t need to invest a lot of time to accomplish a great, full-body workout. In just 20 minutes, Trainer Kelly shows us a fun workout routine that gets the heart pumping and endorphins flowing.

Ready for more? From cardio to yoga, strength to tabata, you can find a library of heart healthy workouts (for free!) on the PF App. Show your heart some love and get started now. Download the PF App here.