Think back to the last time you liked — not loathed — going to the gym. If it's been years, maybe it's because you've walked the same treadmill at the same gym for so long that your sneaker print is embedded in the tread or the exercise bike practically sets the speed itself when you sit on it. The only way to amp up your motivation and stay heart-healthy is to re-energize your exercise regimen. But how?

Heart Health: Cardio is the Fitness Priority
Getting an optimal cardio workout isn’t necessarily about how you move your arms and legs or what sports gear you use. Cardio is about moving your large muscle groups — your arms and legs — to force blood through your arteries. This is aerobic exercise at its best. Your heart and lungs will work harder than normal to meet your body’s increased demand for oxygen, the “aero” in aerobic. And oxygen keeps your heart cells in prime condition.
The type of cardio exercise you do is up to you, but if you’re over-using treadmills and elliptical bikes, it’s time to move on.

Heart Health: Have Some Fun with Cardio

To decide what you’re going to do to maintain your heart-healthy exercise regimen, think back to when you were a kid. What did you love to do? It's likely that some of the most fun you had was with physical activities that didn't even seem like work. Such cardio-rich activities probably included:

Swimming: What is it about the water that calms our nerves and rids the mind of stress? When you were little, it didn’t seem to matter whether the water was in a neighbor’s pool or at the beach. You couldn’t get enough of it. Today, at age 67, Carl F. Dennison, MD, a family doctor in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., hasn’t forgotten that feeling. Still an avid swimmer, Dr. Dennison swims about five times a week. When his body hits the water, he feels the stress just leave his bones. “When I don’t maintain my regular routine, my body feels it,” he says. “I’m not as flexible and I’m a little achy. My body craves the exercise.”

If doing laps isn’t your thing, give water aerobics a try. Your local gym, health club, or recreation center may offer classes that use floating weights, kickboards, and other tools to put some interest back into your workout.

Dancing: You didn’t know how much exercise you were getting at those high school dances, but you always left feeling that it seemed to end 10 minutes after it started; that’s how fast the time flew by. Well, that can happen again. Try signing up for a dance class with your partner — or if you’re single, look for a class that will match you with someone else. No classes in your neck of the woods? Turn on your favorite dance music at home and boogie around your living room for 30 to 45 minutes.

Bicycling: How did you get around town when you were a kid? Whether it was going to the store or your Little League game, you probably rode your bike. Maybe it’s time to get on your bike again. Plan a vacation around cycling or take your children or grandchildren out on a regular basis. Bike riding is excellent for improving circulation and relieving stress, which is exactly what your heart needs.

Organized sports: Many exercise experts recommend that you have a companion when you exercise, so why not join a team? There are a number of sports leagues out there that cater to people of different ages and abilities. The St. Louis Men’s Senior Baseball League, for example has more than 700 players from the age 18 to over 50. And the only requirement to play is that you must love baseball, so don’t let your rusty swing keep you from getting in the game again.
Aerobic classes: Kickboxing, yoga, group cycling, step aerobics — all of these activities get your body moving and your heart pumping, which is exactly what you need to optimize your heart health. Try sampling a different class each week to find the classes that you’ll enjoy most.

Heart Health: Be Smart About Cardio Fitness Too

Before you add any new cardiovascular exercise to your routine, it’s a good idea to check with your doctor — especially if you’ve been diagnosed with a heart condition. Also, listen to your body as you’re exercising, and be prepared to back off and take a break if you suddenly don’t feel well.
Another good idea from Dr. Dennison: When you exercise, especially if you are outside, always wear a medical ID bracelet or necklace. This way, if anything should happen and you are taken to an emergency room, the medical team will have vital information about you. “I think those bracelets are underused,” he says. “Information is power.”