The Best Exercises for Building a Strong Cardiovascular System

Yoga can be beneficial for heart health.
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A strong cardiovascular system is important for health, activities of daily living and optimal athletic performance. Running and other aerobic exercises are known to be effective for building a strong healthy heart. But it may surprise you to discover that yoga and resistance training are also heart-friendly modes of exercise.

Fundamentals of Heart Health

    Cardiovascular strength is defined by heart rate, or how many times the heart beats per minute; stroke volume, which is the total amount of blood pumped per beat; and contractility, which is the force with which the heart contracts with each beat. When you exercise, heart rate, stroke volume and contractility all increase to meet the demand for oxygen-rich blood in the cells of the working muscles. When you challenge your oxygen delivery system by doing exercise that is slightly beyond your comfort zone, you elicit adaptations in your heart and other muscle cells that make your cardiovascular system stronger and more efficient.

Traditional Endurance Training

    Aerobic exercise, also called endurance exercise, is the traditional mode of choice for improving cardiovascular strength. It is defined by continuous rhythmic large muscle movement over an extended duration of time, usually longer than 20 minutes. Running, walking, cycling, cross-country skiing, aerobic dance and swimming are just some of the many exercise options that fall into the aerobic category. While some aerobic activities are more challenging than others, finding an activity you enjoy is key. You are more likely to consistently engage in an activity that is fun, reaping the greatest long-term benefits to your cardiovascular system.

Resistance Training

    Many people believe that because resistance training is considered anaerobic in nature, it is not beneficial for the cardiovascular system. But a 2010 study conducted at Appalachian State University found that 45 minutes of moderate intensity resistance training was just as effective as aerobic exercise in reducing resting blood pressure, a significant marker for cardiovascular health. These findings are significant for individuals who, due to musculoskeletal limitations or obesity, are not able to perform traditional aerobic exercise. A 2008 study published in the "Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research" found that a program which combined resistance training and endurance exercise was optimal for enhancing the cardiovascular fitness of male and female athletes.


    Yoga is often categorized as a low-key exercise mode to improve flexibility and foster meditation. But according to a 2011 review of literature published in the "International Journal of Yoga," yoga may have a positive influence on cardiovascular health. Benefits include improved cardiovascular efficiency and performance, reduced blood pressure, decreased stress hormones, improved breathing and a slowing of age-related deterioration of cardiovascular function. Practicing yoga in addition to aerobic exercise and resistance training will benefit your cardiovascular system while enhancing your posture, flexibility, strength and mental well-being.

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