Skip to main content

The Benefits of Physical Activity for Heart Health


Want to look after your heart? One of the best ways can be to try and get moving.

Whether it’s walking a little more, trying a gym class or cycling to work, regular physical activity can help to reduce your risk of heart and circulatory diseases by up to 35%.

In this week’s educational blog, learn all about the benefits of physical activity on your heart health and what happens in your body when you get active.

Why should I look after my heart health?

The heart is a vital muscle in our body and is responsible for pumping blood containing oxygen and nutrients to our muscles, organs, and brain to keep us alive.

As it’s an involuntary muscle, with its own electrical system, we don’t even have to think about our heart working – it just does.

However, just like our other muscles, we need to look after our heart to keep it strong and healthy. This will help reduce our risk of developing heart and circulatory disease.

What is heart and circulatory disease?

Heart and circulatory diseases (also known as cardiovascular diseases) often start with a build-up of fatty substances in your arteries (the blood vessels that carry blood to your organs). This causes damage and potential blockages, which strain your heart.

It’s estimated that over half of us will get a heart or circulatory condition in our lifetime, with many of those being preventable through simple lifestyle changes such as increasing your physical activity and eating better.

Why is physical activity so important for my heart health?

Regular physical activity can reduce your risk of heart and circulatory disease by 35%. That’s a massive decrease in risk, all by just moving more.

Physical activity can also help to manage blood pressure, cholesterol and look after your mental health. Regular movement can also help you sleep better, boost your mood, increase energy and it’s a great way to meet new people and try fun activities. So, if you’ve been looking for a sign to get moving, this is it.

What happens inside your body when you are physically active?

When you are active, your muscles produce heat, increasing your body temperature and making you feel warmer.

Your muscles are working harder and need more oxygen. Your heart beats faster to pump more blood to your muscles and your breathing gets deeper and quicker so your blood can pick up more oxygen from your lungs.

Once your blood has picked up oxygen, as well as supplying the rest of the body, it travels through arteries to the muscles you are using, giving them the extra oxygen they need.

If you are active regularly, more capillaries grow in the muscles you’ve been working, which is one of the reasons exercise over time will begin to feel easier.

How does physical activity reduce my risk of heart disease?

  • Manages blood pressure

Blood pressure is the pressure of blood in your arteries.

Maintaining normal blood pressure is key because high blood pressure puts your heart and circulatory system under stress and can increase your risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

Physical activity doesn’t just make your skeletal muscles stronger; it makes your heart stronger too. A stronger heart can pump blood around the body with less effort, reducing the pressure on your arteries and helping to keep your blood pressure at a healthy level.

  • Promotes levels of good cholesterol

Cholesterol is a fatty substance found in your blood. It’s produced naturally in our liver and comes from some of the food we eat. We need it to stay healthy because every cell in our body uses it, however, too much of it can be damaging.

When there is too much bad cholesterol (non-high-density lipoproteins or non-HDL) in your blood, it can build up and cause blockages inside your blood vessels. This makes it harder for blood to flow through, increasing your risk of having a heart attack or a stroke.

Physical activity raises your levels of good cholesterol (high-density lipoproteins or HDL) which helps to manage the amount of bad cholesterol in your blood. It takes the bad cholesterol to your liver to be broken down and removed. This makes it less likely that bad cholesterol will clog up your arteries and cause a heart attack or stroke.

  • Prevents Type 2 diabetes

Diabetes is a condition which means our blood glucose level is too high. Although there are different types of diabetes, 90% of people with the condition have Type 2 diabetes. This is when the body can’t produce enough insulin (a hormone that allows the glucose in our blood to enter our body’s cells and provide us with fuel) or that the insulin it produces isn’t effective.

Over time, if your blood glucose levels are too high, this can lead to damage to your arteries, increasing your risk of a heart attack or stroke.

Physical activity can help in a number of ways to prevent and manage Type 2 diabetes. It can help the body to use insulin better and manage blood glucose levels. It can also lower your blood pressure (which helps to reduce diabetes complications) and helps to manage weight.

How much physical activity should I try to do?

It’s recommended that we all aim to do strengthening activities that work all major muscle groups on at least 2 days per week, as well as, 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity per week.

But any movement is a great place to start. Small steps add up to big change.

What counts as physical activity?

Physical activity doesn’t have to be running a marathon or spending every day in the gym. It can be any type of movement that increases your heart rate, makes you feel warmer and breathe harder.

That could be:

  • Walking to the shops instead of driving
  • Dancing to your favourite album
  • Taking a gym class
  • Taking the stairs instead of the lift
  • Going for a walk on your lunch break
  • Swimming
  • Gardening
  • Housework like vacuuming or tidying

One of the best tips is to find something you enjoy and have variation in your physical activity. You’re more likely to stick to it if you have fun and aren’t getting bored!

8 easy ways to become more active

There are lots of ways to become more active, but how do you actually stick to it? We’ve got 8 top tips to help you move more and turn it into a habit.

  1. Start Small

Although the physical activity guidelines may sound a lot, remember, you don’t have to do it all in one go.  It’s important to listen to your body and ease your way into exercising, at a pace that is right for you.

150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity could be broken into 30 minutes of physical activity 5 times per week. Or can be broken down even further into shorter 10-minute sessions throughout the day.

Remember, hitting that goal could just be a 30 minute walk every day to start with. Start small and build up from there.

  1. Be realistic about your goals

It’s amazing that you want to make a change to your lifestyle to improve your heart health, so now it’s time to set some goals. What do you want to achieve?

Setting goals are a great way to keep on track, while also helping you to stay motivated. They help to track your progress and see the work you’re putting paying off.

Setting realistic goals are so important, as they are achievable. Instead of a broad, ‘I want to get fitter’ goal, start with small and manageable short-term goals such as ‘I will go for a 20 minute walk every day’. These smaller goals all add up and will get you one step closer to your bigger long-term goal.

That way, your goals are enough to motivate you to reach for them but aren’t so out of reach you lose drive because they’re too unachievable.

  1. Make exercise a part of your day

One of the best ways to become more active is to make movement part of your day-to-day routine. That could be doing a morning yoga flow as soon as you get up, cycling to work every day, going for a walk on your lunch break or doing a gym class on your way home from work. If you make exercise part of your routine, you’re more likely to build a habit out of it.

Think about your daily routine, and where you could add a little more movement in. Small changes all add up to big results.

  1. Keep moving

Remember that everyday activities count, so look out for opportunities to be active during the day.

That could be taking the stairs instead of the lift, getting off the bus a stop early and walking the rest of the way, doing some stretches while watching TV or dancing in the kitchen while your dinner cooks. Every minute counts!

  1. Workout with a buddy

Having a workout buddy can help you to stay motivated and keep you accountable, while also making activities more fun and sociable. Why not find a friend or family member to join you on your walks or to go to the gym together?

If you don’t have a workout buddy, don’t worry! PureGym classes can be a great way to meet new people and be a part of a like-minded community, all working on their goals together.

  1. Do something you enjoy

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again. Movement should be something you enjoy!

If you do exercise that you hate, you may not stick to it. Instead of forcing yourself to do something you don’t enjoy, plan in movement that you do.

Whether that’s swimming, rock climbing, running, weightlifting, boxing, aerobics or just dancing around in your kitchen to your favourite playlist – movement is movement. The only difference is that if you enjoy it, you’re more likely to keep going and see results from it.

  1. Set reminders

While you look to build movement into your daily routine and form a habit, you can prompt yourself to be more physically active by setting reminders. That could be daily reminders on your phone or post-it notes around your house – if you see it every day, you’re more likely to make it happen!

  1. Track your progress

Seeing progress can be a massive motivator to keep going, so make sure to track your progress.

That could be with a step counter to track how many steps you walk each day, a fitness tracker to see your heart rate during your workouts or even just a diary of how you felt during and after every workout.

Want to learn more?

Interested in finding out more about heart health? Check out our blog on how to look after your heart and read our simple swaps and manageable steps you can take to reduce your risk of heart and circulatory disease.

Want to know more about how your heart works? We’ve got you covered too. Check out our blog on how your heart works and learn the basics about your hearts anatomy and how it keeps you alive.

To find out more about our partnership with the British Heart Foundation and more helpful resources and information, click here.

All blog posts