If you've found the exercise-an-hour-per-day ideal a little daunting (or downright undoable), scientists have some very good news: While any activity is good for your ticker, new research shows that you can maximize its heart-attack-proofing benefits—and spend less time at the gym—by making three simple changes to your sweat schedule. Here's how to get started. (Search: Heart attack prevention tips)
And while you're at it, don't fall for these workout myths that mess with results.
1. RECHARGE YOUR CARDIO
Recent studies have found that interval training (alternating between high-and moderate-intensity bursts of activity) can double and possibly even triple the heart-protecting benefits you'd get from moderate cardio sessions—even when you exercise for less time. "Short cardio bursts make your heart work harder and pump more blood with each beat, which strengthens your entire cardiovascular system," says David Swain, PhD, a professor of exercise science at Old Dominion University.
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High-intensity cardio also prompts your muscles to develop more mitochondria, tiny energy-making units within cells that use sugar and fat for fuel. The more mitochondria you have, the better your muscles become at utilizing carbohydrates, improving the body's insulin sensitivity. The result: Less sugar floats around in your blood, and this lowers the risk of type 2 diabetes, a major precursor to heart disease. (Related: Treat diabetes without drugs) High-intensity exercise may also give you a greater reduction in blood pressure. When you pick up the pace, artery walls produce nitric oxide, which boosts their ability to dilate so blood flows more easily.
Intimidated? Consider this: Norwegian researchers looked at two groups of patients who were suffering from chronic heart failure. Three times a week, one group walked at a moderate pace, while the other group did high-intensity bursts of walking. The interval-training group increased their VO2 max, a key indicator of cardiovascular function, by a whopping 46%—triple the increase seen in the slower walkers.