What Counts as Cardio and Why is it So Important for Your Heart Health?

what counts as cardio

Does walking count as cardio? What about yoga—the kind that leaves you out of breath and shaky? Is swimming cardio, even if you’re underwater?

Twenty-one percent of Americans now wear a fitness tracker to monitor everything from their steps to time spent paddle boarding, to cross-training to playing badminton. Fitness fads always seem to come and go (with CrossFit and pickleball among the latest trends), yet doctors and health experts always suggest cardio as a central component of one’s fitness routine to support heart health. So, what is cardio, and why does it matter so much for your heart? Read on for the answers.

What is Cardio?

What we call “cardio” is cardiovascular fitness, also known as aerobic exercise. If what comes to mind when you hear “aerobic exercise” is an image of men and women in the 80s wearing neon spandex and getting fit together in group classes, know that the scientific term applies to a much broader category of fitness.

Simply put, aerobic exercise, or cardio, is anything that elevates your heart rate. More specifically, it is any rhythmic activity that increases your heart rate into your target heart rate zone—the pace at which you burn the most calories and fat.

Why is Cardio Good for Your Heart?

By raising your heart rate and increasing the flow of oxygen throughout your system, cardiovascular fitness offers such health benefits as:

  • Lowering blood pressure
  • Lowering cholesterol
  • Decreasing the risk of heart disease, diabetes, or stroke
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Encouraging healthier nutrition choices
  • Decreasing stress
  • Improving your mood
  • Improving your workout efficiency
  • Improving blood flow
  • Reducing the risk of heart arrhythmia—an irregular beating of the heart

Examples of Cardio Exercise

Since cardio is anything that raises your heart rate, it’s easy to understand why so many types of fitness activities can be considered cardio, such as walking, running, biking, and swimming. If you’re someone who closely monitors their fitness tracker, you may wonder what your smart tech is counting as fitness minutes on days when you don’t clock time on your Peloton. Since some household chores can raise your heart rate, make you sweat, and leave you exhausted—they can count as cardio too. Such activities may include dusting, vacuuming, mopping, landscaping, or painting.

How Much Cardio Does the Average Person Need?

With so many activities qualifying as cardio, you should be able to find a sport, hobby, or fitness routine that you enjoy to achieve the ideal amount of cardio that you need weekly for optimal heart health. Talk to your doctor to find out how many exercise minutes are right for you before starting any new fitness routine.

On average, adults should strive for at least 150 minutes of cardio exercise each week. That’s the equivalent of about 20 minutes a day each day of the week, 30 minutes five times a week, or 50 minutes three times a week. If time is your enemy, you can strive for a 20-minute dog walk or jog each day to meet your goal. If you’re someone who feels more engaged while participating in a class or group event, you could hit the gym for an hour three times a week. What matters is finding the activities that interest you and a schedule that fits your lifestyle and that you can commit to as part of your daily routine.

A Note About Weight Loss

If your goal is to lose weight, on average, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends adults get at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity each week to see substantial changes. Again, talk to your doctor before beginning any fitness or diet plan.

American Heart Month isn’t over yet—and it’s never too late to recommit to optimal heart health. If you have concerns about your heart’s health or your risk of heart disease, find a Nova Health location near you or schedule an appointment with one of our providers. Telemedicine appointments are also available.

Protect Your Heart With Regular Visits with Your PCP

importance of regualr check-ups for heart health

As we celebrate American Heart Month all February, we’re reflecting on the most critical steps our patients can take to protect their heart health. From daily lifestyle habits to small changes, improving your heart health doesn’t have to be daunting—but it does have to be a promise you make to yourself and a priority you make in your life. One of the most impactful commitments you can make to improve your heart health is to obtain an annual wellness exam with your primary care provider (PCP). If you don’t already have a PCP, find a Nova Health location near you today.

The Importance of Regular Check-Ups

Early detection of the signs and symptoms of heart disease is crucial in treating the lifestyle and health factors that can escalate into a catastrophic event if left unchecked. Your doctor will seek to identify such concerning risk factors as high blood pressure, high total cholesterol, and high blood glucose during your health screening. Regular check-ups with your PCP enable vital conversations about lifestyle habits, family histories, and heart-healthy decisions. Your doctor is the greatest ally in your quest for a healthy heart and a long life. By meeting with your PCP regularly, you will benefit from their continuous care and insights and can address any health risks before they become problematic.

Why You Should Receive Regular Cholesterol Screenings

Depending on your age, risk factors, and health history, your doctor will determine the frequency they recommend you to obtain regular cholesterol screenings.  The results of a cholesterol test could be critical in recognizing a potentially dangerous heart condition. Even if you believe you eat healthily and lead an active lifestyle, genetic factors may put you at risk. For such individuals, a cholesterol screening is crucial in the pursuit of early detection.

The American Heart Association recommends adults receive a cholesterol screening every four to six years starting at age 20; however, your PCP will determine a schedule that best addresses your needs and risk factors.

Ask Your PCP for a CACS

If you are concerned about your heart health, your doctor may recommend that you participate in a CT scan of your heart, known as a Coronary Artery Calcium Scan (CACS). This test can help detect developing heart issues and has been known to help save lives in asymptomatic patients—those who have developed risk factors but are not yet showing symptoms.

Treatment Options and Ongoing Collaboration with Your PCP

If your regular health screening identifies that you are at risk of developing heart disease or a more emergent issue, your doctor will devise a treatment plan to lessen your risk factors and improve your health. Depending on your symptoms and risks, your treatment plan may include medications, lifestyle changes, or a referral to a cardiologist—a heart specialist. What’s crucial, however, is that you take the first step by meeting your PCP. Without their guidance and expertise, you will be less equipped to battle your risk factors and fight for the health of your heart.

Ten Types of Congenital Heart Defects (CHD)

congenital heart defects

The heart can be a fragile thing—both emotionally and physically. The journal Circulation estimates that 1 million children and 1.4 million American adults have a congenital heart defect (CHD). The condition is defined as several types of abnormalities in the heart muscle present at birth, and that can affect how blood flows through the heart and into the system. Some CHDs are mild, and some are severe. In the more severe cases, babies born with CHDs require surgery after birth or throughout their life.  If you are pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant, familiarize yourself with the most common types of birth defects and understand what options may be available to help heal your baby’s heart.

The Most Common Types of CHDs

The most common types of congenital heart defects include:

  • Atrial Septal Defect – Causes a hole in the wall between the heart’s upper chambers.
  • Atrioventricular Septal Defect (AVSD) – The presence of holes between the right and left-side heart chambers and deformities in the vales that control the flood of blood between the two chambers.
  • Coarctation of the Aorta – A narrowing of the aorta, the large blood vessel that takes blood away from the heart.
  • Double-Outlet Right Ventricle – Two of the large blood vessels in the heart do not correctly connect.
  • Dextro-Transposition of the Great Arteries (d-TGA) – Two of the main arteries carrying blood from the heart are transposed or switched positions.
  • Ebstein Anomaly – The tricuspid valve (the valve located between the upper right chamber and lower right chamber) is not formed correctly. As a result, blood leaks back through it and into the right atrium. It is a rare heart defect.
  • Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome – The left side of the heart does not form properly. As a result, blood does not flow properly through the heart.
  • Interrupted Aortic Arch – The aorta does not properly develop. It is extremely rare, accounting for only about one percent of all CHDs.
  • Pulmonary Atresia – The valve that controls blood flow from the heart to the lungs does not form. As a result, blood does not properly flow to the lungs to pick up oxygen.
  • Single Ventricle – One of the two pumping chambers in the heart is not large or strong enough to work correctly or is missing a valve.
  • Tetralogy of Fallot – A rare CHD in which four different heart defects are present at birth and result in oxygen-poor blood flowing out of the heart and into the body.
  • Total Anomalous Pulmonary Venous Return (TAPVR) – Oxygen-rich blood does not return from the lungs to the left atrium and instead returns to the right side of the heart.
  • Tricuspid Atresia – The valve that controls the blood flow from the upper right heart chamber to the lower right does not form.
  • Truncus Arteriosus – The blood vessel that leaves the heart fails to separate during fetal development properly. As a result, it leaves a connection between the pulmonary artery and the aorta.
  • Ventricular Septal Defect – There is an abnormal connection between the ventricles (lower chambers of the heart).

Symptoms of a Congenital Heart Defects

CHD symptoms may appear shortly after birth or not until later in adolescence or adulthood. Common symptoms may include:

  • Cyanosis (a blue tinge to the skin)
  • Difficulty or rapid breathing
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Fatigue
  • Fainting while exercising
  • Blue-tinted lips or nails
  • Sleepiness, especially when feeding
  • Shortness of breath during feeding, which makes it difficult for babies to gain weight and older children to be active
  • Swelling in the belly, legs, and around the eyes, in the ankles, feet, or hands

In the most severe cases, CHDs can cause complications, such as problems during growth and development, respiratory tract infections (RTI), heart infections, pulmonary hypertension, and heart failure. If you are pregnant, make sure you follow your doctor’s advice and meet with them for regular visits during pregnancy and after your baby is born.

The heart may be vulnerable to complications, but it is also strong—especially the heart of a parent. With proper care and treatment, many babies born with CHDs can lead long, healthy, heart-strong lives.

February is American Heart Month. Here are 6 Things You Can Do Today to Show More Love to Your Heart

February is American Heart Month, a time to recommit to making the diet and lifestyle choices needed to keep your heart healthy and strong. Heart disease is the leading cause of death among adults in the United States. A loved one dies from cardiovascular disease every 36 seconds in the U.S., resulting in around 655,000 lost lives every year. This February, show your heart some love by honestly assessing your heart health, lifestyle, and genetic risk factors and then making decisions in collaboration with your doctor to lead a heart-healthy life moving forward.

1. Quit Smoking.

If you are a smoker, the number one thing you can do to improve your heart health is quitting smoking. Cigarette smoking is the number one cause of preventable disease and death in the U.S. The over 7,000 toxic chemicals in cigarette smoke can damage your body’s ability to deliver oxygen-rich blood to your heart. They can lead to the development of cardiovascular disease (CVD). This generic term includes those conditions that affect your heart and blood vessels, including coronary heart disease, hypertension (high blood pressure), stroke, heart attack, peripheral artery disease, and aneurysm. If you need help quitting smoking, talk to your doctor, or get help from Smoke-Free Oregon or the Montana Tobacco Quit Line.

2. Get Active.

Even individuals with heart disease risk factors benefit from regular activity. Those who stay active lower their risk of early death compared to those who lead sedentary lifestyles. Strengthen your heart by getting at least 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise three to five days a week. Before you start a new fitness routine or make any dramatic changes to your existing habits, talk to your doctor to ensure you choose activities appropriate for your current level of health and cardiovascular capabilities.

3. Get Enough Sleep.

Adults who sleep less than seven hours each night are more likely to present with such health problems as heart attack, asthma, and depression. Unfortunately, about a third of American adults say they get less than seven hours of sleep per night. Some common reasons people struggle to get enough sleep may include stress, caffeine intake, an inconsistent sleep schedule, or too much time late at night on an electronic device like a smartphone, laptop, or television. If you need help adjusting your sleep schedule and improving your sleep quality, talk to your doctor (and know that regular exercise and quitting smoking can help too).

4. Eat a Heart-Healthy Diet.

A diet high in fat can increase your risk of developing a dangerous heart disease. When fatty deposits in the blood build up over time, they narrow the arteries in the heart, resulting in a condition called atherosclerosis, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke. Fuel your heart with lean proteins, healthy grains, and fresh fruits and vegetables. Reduce your intake of sugary processed beverages and foods, salty, fried foods, and fast food high in saturated fats. Add to your diet such superfoods as lean meat and fish, oatmeal that’s high in fiber, blueberries, leafy greens, and healthy nuts like almonds.

5. Reduce Stress.

Researchers believe that stress may affect lifestyle behaviors and health factors that increase your risk of heart disease risk, including smoking, inactivity, unhealthy diet choices, and high blood pressure and cholesterol. While many aspects of your life—from work to family to social pressures—may be causing you stress, every effort you can make to lead an emotionally healthy, balanced lifestyle can improve your heart health and happiness. If you worry that stress could be negatively impacting your emotional and physical health, talk to your doctor and ask for a referral to a mental health professional.

6. Have Regular Wellness Exams.

The best asset in your quest for optimal heart health is your doctor. Make sure you are following age and risk factor appropriate recommendations for regular health screenings with your doctor. If you do not currently have a primary care provider (PCP), our compassionate providers at Nova Health are accepting new patients. Find a location near you, or make an appointment for a secure and convenient telemedicine visit.