Locations:
Search IconSearch

How Making Your Heart Work Harder Makes It Stronger

Unlock the secret of your body’s hardest-working organ

anatomical illustration of a heart against a blue background

Conventional wisdom suggests that if you want something to last longer, you should go easy on it. And most of the time, that’s sage advice. But not when it comes to your body’s hardest-working organ: your heart.

Advertisement

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

Each day, your heart beats, on average, 100,000 times, pumping your blood through a vast system of blood vessels that’s more than 60,000 miles long.

But making your heart work even harder — through moderate- to high-intensity physical activity on a consistent basis — can help lower your blood pressure and make your heart stronger, says cardiologist Leslie Cho, MD.

Is your heart a muscle?

Your heart is a muscle. Just like your bicep, the more you work your heart, the bigger and stronger it gets.

During moderate- to high-intensity exercise, your muscles and tissues demand more nutrients and oxygen, which means that your heart must work harder and pump faster to meet those needs, says Dr. Cho.

Over time, your heart works more efficiently and can push out a greater volume of blood with every beat.

In addition, exercise also improves blood flow to your heart. It does this by improving the ability of your coronary blood vessels, which are the arteries that supply blood to your heart, to dilate.

Exercise also helps your other blood vessels’ ability to dilate, which, over time, lowers blood pressure.

“In general, the lower your blood pressure is, the better off you are,” Dr. Cho says. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart and blood vessel disease.

Consistent moderate physical activity has other benefits, too:

  • Muscles and tissue are better able to extract oxygen from your blood, even while you are resting.
  • Sympathetic tone, a nervous system function that activates especially under conditions of stress, goes down.

“As a secondary benefit, consistent exercise can help you lose weight, which means your heart doesn’t have to work as hard since there is less of you to pump blood to,” Dr. Cho says.

How to make your heart stronger

Dr. Cho shares these additional tips to help keep your blood pressure in check and keep your heart strong:

  1. Avoid sodium. Too much salt increases the volume of your blood, which can make your blood pressure problems worse. Prepare your own foods to help limit your sodium intake, and drink water instead of soda.
  2. Try the DASH diet. DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. DASH is a lifelong healthy eating plan that helps you focus on cutting salt from your diet and adding foods rich in potassium, calcium and magnesium.
  3. Limit alcohol. Consuming just two or three drinks in one sitting can elevate your blood pressure.
  4. Avoid black licorice. This may not be a piece of advice you were expecting to read, but black licorice, which contains glycyrrhizinic acid, can elevate blood pressure, even in those without hypertension.
  5. Take a stand. Research shows that sitting for prolonged periods can have a negative effect on your heart, even if you get 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week. Break up periods of inactivity and get your blood pumping by taking a five-minute walk at least once an hour.

Advertisement

When you combine healthy habits like regular exercise, a balanced diet, the elimination of smoking and drinking and more, your heart will be able to pump at a strong rate.

Taking care of your heart is essential to preventing the development of other diseases like diabetes and lung-related illnesses, too. If you feel your heart isn’t pumping or beating the way it’s supposed to, contact your physician immediately.

Advertisement

Learn more about our editorial process.

Related Articles

Person on walking pad in living room, with TV on
July 3, 2024/Exercise & Fitness
Here’s How To Make the Most Out of the ‘Cozy Cardio’ Trend

It’s not the only exercise you should do, but this gentle way to get active can help you get out of a workout slump

Person stretching on foam roller
June 28, 2024/Exercise & Fitness
Stretching Before or After Exercise: Which Is Better?

Stretch before and after your workouts for maximum benefits, but your pre-workout stretches should be different from your post-workout stretches

Person using rowing machine in home gym
June 27, 2024/Exercise & Fitness
Catch, Drive, Finish and Recover! The Top 7 Benefits of Rowing Machines

This low-impact, full-body workout builds strength and stamina while reducing stress

Healthcare provider checking patient's knee
June 19, 2024/Chronic Pain
Arthritis Exercise: What To Try and What To Avoid

Exercising can actually improve arthritis symptoms — and low-impact exercises are best

Person doing a Bulgarian-split squat outside
June 17, 2024/Exercise & Fitness
10 Squat Variations To Add to Your Workout

Bulgarian split squats, hack squats and goblet squats are just a few of the moves you can try

Smiling pregnant person speaking with healthcare provider in medical office
June 14, 2024/Heart Health
Why Your Heart Needs Special Attention When You’re Pregnant

Obesity, age and preexisting heart conditions can all raise your risk of cardiovascular disease during pregnancy

Older person smiling, taking in the outdoors
June 13, 2024/Mental Health
Put Intention Behind Your Walking Meditation

While walking, be mindful of your body, your mind, your place in the world and all five of your senses as you pave a path forward, one step at a time

Person in a deep squat
June 13, 2024/Exercise & Fitness
Here’s the Right Way To Do a Squat

Squat smart with proper technique, including a neutral spine, wide knees and an engaged core

Trending Topics

Female and friend jogging outside
How To Increase Your Metabolism for Weight Loss

Focus on your body’s metabolic set point by eating healthy foods, making exercise a part of your routine and reducing stress

stovetop with stainless steel cookware and glassware
5 Ways Forever Chemicals (PFAS) May Affect Your Health

PFAS chemicals may make life easier — but they aren’t always so easy on the human body

jar of rice water and brush, with rice scattered around table
Could Rice Water Be the Secret To Healthier Hair?

While there’s little risk in trying this hair care treatment, there isn’t much science to back up the claims

Ad