Understanding the Relationship Between Exercise and Heart Rate

Exercise influences your heart rate and can, in turn, yield many different benefits for your heart health. How does exercise impact your heart rate, and moreover, how does it influence your overall heart health? 

Carda is here to discuss the relationship between exercise and heart rate, including which type of exercise is best for your heart and how often you should exercise to see the best results when it comes to strengthening your heart muscle. Read on to learn more about how to support your overall cardiovascular health and wellness.

How Does Exercise Impact Heart Health?

Regular exercise can have many positive impacts on your heart health, including that it supports blood flow, helps lower blood pressure and cholesterol, supports body weight management and weight loss efforts, and helps relieve stress. Let's explore each of the benefits that exercise can have on your heart below. 

Supports Blood Flow

When you exercise, you engage in more physical exertion than your body usually experiences, meaning your muscles need more oxygen-rich blood to help you stay physically active. 

Your muscle cells signal to your nervous and cardiovascular systems that they need more blood flow. So, anytime you exercise, you promote your blood flow levels and help enhance your circulation.

Helps Lower Blood Pressure

In addition to increasing blood flow, exercise also helps lower blood pressure because of the effect it has on your arteries. Your arteries are the vessels that transport blood to the rest of your body to supply your organs and tissues with oxygen-rich blood flow that enhances circulation. 

In your arteries, endothelial cells thinly coat the inner layers of your blood vessel walls. Part of these tiny cells' role in your blood vessels is to make nitric oxide, a compound in the body that helps regulate your blood pressure levels. 

Nitric oxide can help prevent inflammation or blood clots from forming on your artery walls, two factors that place you at high risk for developing a heart condition. Additionally, nitric oxide helps keep your artery walls open by relaxing the smooth muscle cells that also line your artery wall. By helping your artery walls relax, nitric oxide is a vasodilator that can help lower your blood pressure levels and promote your heart health. 

Exercise helps promote endothelial cell function to help lower your blood pressure levels. Even physical activity that just involves walking to stay active can have a substantial positive impact on your blood pressure levels and can improve your endothelial function.

Supports Weight Management

Staying physically active is also a great way to manage your weight and support your heart health. When you are physically active, your body burns calories and prevents your cells from storing excess fat, which can lead to obesity. Obesity is a risk factor for cardiac disease, so managing your weight to prevent obesity can greatly lower your risk of developing heart disease. 

Helps Relieve Stress

Repeated exposure to stress places you at risk for heart disease. Stress can cause your heart rate to increase and can raise your blood pressure. Stress can also encourage you to engage in unhealthy behaviors — like eating lots of processed or refined foods, drinking, smoking, or staying sedentary — that place you at a higher risk of developing heart disease. 

Exercise can also help with stress management because physical activity encourages your brain to release chemicals that can make you "feel good" and enhance your overall mental health. When you exercise, your body signals your brain to release endorphins, which are the chemicals that can help improve your mood and make you feel happy. 

Exercise can also help relieve feelings of anxiety, muscle tenseness, nervousness, or depression, because of its stimulating effect on your body movements. When you exercise, you encourage yourself to feel more confident and comfortable in your body and set yourself up to feel relaxed afterward because of the mood-enhancing effects that physical activity can have on your body. 

How Does Exercise Impact Your Heart Rate?

Exercise causes your heart rate to elevate momentarily because your muscles consume more energy as you start to move your body more. Since your muscles use more energy, they need more blood than if you were at rest. This means the heart must pump harder and faster to supply your muscles with enough blood. 

Additionally, when your muscles use energy, they yield waste products that show up as a concentration in your blood. The brain closely monitors the waste product concentration in your blood in order to send the right signals to your heart muscle when it comes to how much to increase your heart rate. 

What Kind of Exercise Is Best for Your Heart?

Aerobic exercise and strength training (resistance training) are the best types of exercise to help boost heart health. Aerobic exercise can help increase blood circulation and can also strengthen your cardiovascular fitness as well as your overall fitness level. Because aerobic exercise enhances circulation, it can help lower your blood pressure and your heart rate. 

Resistance training, which usually involves a workout routine with weights or resistance bands, helps to strengthen existing muscle mass as well as build new muscle mass. Strength training can also help to decrease body fat percentage, which can help lower your risk for heart disease if you are overweight or trying to manage your weight. 

What Is Aerobic Exercise?

Aerobic exercise, also known as cardio, includes any type of exercise that increases your heart rate and breathing. This could be brisk walking or running. It could also include swimming or biking, an interval training workout, jumping rope, or boxing. As long as the exercise involves increased levels of oxygen throughout your body, then it is a form of aerobic exercise that can help strengthen your heart health. 

How Often Should You Exercise for a Healthy Heart Rate?

The American Heart Association recommends incorporating at least 150 minutes of exercise each week to benefit your heart health. In general, you should aim to get 30 minutes of aerobic exercise built into your routine five times a week. You can also incorporate strength training a couple of times a week to help strengthen your muscles and build new muscle mass for endurance. 

Any amount of exercise is good for your heart health and overall wellness, though, even if you have to start at smaller intervals or frequencies and work your way up to 150 minutes a week. If all you can do is a 15-minute walk around your neighborhood, that's better than no exercise at all. The more you get out and stay active, the easier it will feel over time to engage in physical activity for your heart health.

What Should Your Target Heart Rate Be?

Most healthy adults' resting heart rate range falls between 60 to 100 heartbeats per minute (bpm). However, when it comes to exercise, the target heart rate zone varies by age. 

Moderate-intensity physical activity will generally reach anywhere from 50 to 70% of your maximum heart rate. 

For adults ages 50 to 55, the target heart rate zone for moderately intense exercise is anywhere between 85 to 145 BPM. For adults ages 55 to 60, the target heart rate is 80 to 136 BPM, and for those ages 60 to 65, the target heart rate is 78 to 132 BPM. 

If you are uncertain about how to reach your target heart rate during exercise or are looking for ways to safely monitor your exercise routine, consider joining a cardiac rehabilitation program as a way to help personalize your cardiac health needs. 

Carda offers a fully virtual cardiac rehab program that matches you with an exercise physiologist so that you can engage in exercise under the safe guidance of an expert. Once you sign up, we’ll send you everything you need, including equipment like a heart rate monitor, to set up in your home so that you can safely exercise in a comfortable space during your cardiac wellness journey. 

The Bottom Line

Physical activity can benefit your heart health and overall well-being in many different ways. Exercise supports blood flow, helps lower blood pressure, supports weight management, and can help relieve stress. These benefits help decrease a person's risk of developing heart disease. 

When you engage in physical activity, your heart rate temporarily increases to supply your muscles with more oxygen-rich blood. The best way to strengthen your heart muscle is to engage in moderately intense exercise — for about 150 minutes a week — that elevates your heart rate by 50-70% of your maximum heart rate.

If you plan to start a new exercise routine to help strengthen your heart, talk to your healthcare provider first, especially if you already have an underlying cardiac condition. They can help you develop a plan that is safe for your abilities or can give you a referral for cardiac rehabilitation that has a guided exercise program to help support your overall cardiac wellness too. 


Exercise and your arteries | Harvard Health

Target Heart Rates Chart | AHA

3 Kinds of Exercise That Boost Heart Health | Johns Hopkins Medicine

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