If you’re an avid exerciser, you know how good it feels to get it racing on a daily basis, but you might not know how beneficial it is for your overall health—especially years down the line. Considering that heart disease is a leading cause of death for both men and women, it’s never too early to learn about the incredible benefits just 30 minutes of moderately-intense exercise a few times a week can have on your long-term health.
Take pride in these six ways you’re building up your heart health each time you go to class.
It gives your “good” cholesterol levels a boost.
Cholesterol may bring to mind a giant bag of potato chips and a doctor telling you to cut back, but it’s not always a bad thing. Simply put, there are two main types of cholesterol: low-density lipoproteins (LDL), AKA “bad” cholesterol and high-density lipoproteins (HDL), AKA “good” cholesterol. The good eats away at the bad, so the more you have, the better. Even small changes like not smoking, drinking in moderation and eating a healthy diet can help you meet your HDL target, but one of the biggest things you can do is exercise. Just 30 minutes of any physical activity that boosts your heart rate five times a week is all it takes to get your levels where they need to be.
It lowers your blood pressure.
When you’re working up a sweat and feel your heart pumping faster and faster, it’s not just the release of endorphins that give you the stamina to keep on going; it’s also the circulation of blood and oxygen. The more frequently you exercise, the more familiar your body becomes to this process, allowing you to gradually work out harder and for longer periods of time. This is also the reason avid exercisers have lower blood pressure—their heart doesn’t need to work as hard to pump blood and oxygen throughout the body.
It improves your muscle strength and energy levels.
No one wants to feel winded after hitting the grocery store and carrying a couple bags home. But it’s possible if you’re not maintaining a consistent exercise routine. The more you work out, the more muscle mass you build and the less strain you place on your heart when you participate in a physical activity. So every time you do a squat, lift a weight or take a punch in class, remember that your body’s learning how to better deliver oxygen and nutrients to your tissues.
It helps you get a better night sleep.
Not getting enough shut-eye is a huge problem in the United States. In fact, an estimated 50 to 70 million adults have been diagnosed with a sleep or wakefulness disorder. But one of the easiest ways to help fall asleep faster and more soundly is to maintain an exercise regimen. The more accustomed your body becomes to physical activity, the more overnight time it needs to recover.
It keeps your body weight and fat percentages low.
The key to maintaining a healthy weight is to only consume the amount of energy your body will need to spend in that day. Any more than that leads to weight gain, which—at a continued rate—can lead to obesity. And obesity is the greatest factor that determines whether or not you will develop heart disease in your life. Scary, yes, but if you’re staying within range of your Body Mass Index (BMI) and maintaining a healthy diet and exercise regimen, you’re not causing your heart to overwork in the first place. Check your BMI at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute’s website.
It helps you love yourself—and others.
Corny, yes, but absolutely true. If we love with our hearts, then strengthening this vital organ should be of the utmost importance. Exercise not only helps us feel stronger and more energized, awake and motivated, but it also helps us feel confident. When we feel confident and happy about who we are, we’re better people to those we love in life. So whether you’ve got a hot date this Valentine’s Day or plan on celebrating with your couch, Netflix and takeout, remember that squeezing in a workout is the best way to be full of heart.