Find out the many benefits of exercise on heart health, including improved cardiovascular fitness, reduced risk of heart disease, and better overall wellbeing. Discover exercise options suitable for all fitness levels.

Anyone who exercises regularly will know it boosts their overall feeling of wellbeing. But another important benefit is that it promotes heart health. Consistent exercise can strengthen your heart muscles, lower blood pressure and cholesterol and reduce your risk of heart disease. “Regular exercise is a key factor in preventing heart disease and reducing several risk factors associated with heart disease,” says Dr Mongezi Milela, a cardiologist at Mediclinic Heart Hospital in Pretoria. 

So, if you want to be proactive about maintaining a stronger heart, you’ll need to implement a regular exercise routine. Getting started is often the hardest part, but once you do, you’ll discover a wealth of benefits that come with being fit. You will soon feel healthier, energised and more resilient to life’s everyday stresses.

How exercise builds a stronger heart

Exercise helps reduce the risk of heart disease by strengthening the heart muscle, improving blood circulation and helping your body use oxygen more effectively. Mental and physical health go hand in hand and exercise is known to lower the risk of depression and other mental health conditions. When you exercise, your body releases natural stress-fighting chemicals called endorphins that promote a sense of physical and mental wellbeing, explains Harsha Maharaj, a clinical psychologist at Mediclinic Sandton.

Regular exercise lowers your cardiovascular disease risk by lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels, as well as your risk of other heart-health related conditions such as obesity and diabetes. It reduces your heart’s need for oxygen, so it doesn’t have to work as hard and is under less strain. Aerobic exercises increase breathing, heart rate, and endurance, which strengthens the lungs, heart and muscles. Just 20 minutes of exercise is enough to reduce inflammation in the body that would otherwise increase your risk of heart disease. Plus, it releases the feel-good endorphins that boost your ability to handle stress.

Exercising for your fitness level

Low-impact cardiovascular activities like walking, jogging, cycling, and swimming are suitable for low or moderate fitness levels and can help you develop a stronger heart. Dr Milela provides several options and explains their benefits:

  • Walking strengthens muscles and burns calories. Gradually increase the pace or distance.
  • Jogging or running improves cardiovascular endurance, burns calories, and strengthens lower body muscles. Start with a combination of walking and jogging, gradually increasing the duration and intensity of the running phases.
  • Cycling improves cardiovascular fitness, leg strength, and overall endurance. Adjust duration and intensity according to your fitness level, steadily increasing as you progress.
  • Swimming is a full-body workout that improves cardiovascular fitness, muscle strength, as well as flexibility. It’s a particularly good choice if you have joint issues or injuries.

Consistency and safety

“Before starting any exercise programme, see a healthcare professional, especially if you have any pre-existing medical conditions or concerns,” Dr Milela cautions. “They can identify potential risks and recommend exercises suitable for you, particularly if you have a pre-existing heart condition. Listen to your body, start at a realistic level, and progress gradually to avoid injury and build stamina over time.”

Mediclinic promotes a heart-healthy lifestyle and provides services for all heart-related needs. To find an expert healthcare professional near you who can help you devise and maintain a personalised exercise programme, visit

Disclaimer: The information provided in this article was correct at the time of publishing. At Mediclinic we endeavour to provide our patients and readers with accurate and reliable information, which is why we continually review and update our content. However, due to the dynamic nature of clinical information and medicine, some information may from time to time become outdated prior to revision.