Wondering how exercise helps your heart? Joseph Libonati, PhD, associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, has few interesting insights.

He says one way exercise benefits the heart is by decreasing its workload. Since exercise improves the ratio between the heart’s demand for oxygen and its supply through the coronary arteries, working out can strengthen the heart by making it bigger and aiding its ability to pump more efficiently.

Exercise also improves both the supply and demand of the heart by dilating coronary blood vessels, pushing out a greater volume of blood with every beat so it doesn’t have to work as hard — which can lower blood pressure. In addition, exercise makes you leaner, which improves blood sugar levels and also allows the heart to pump blood at lower pressures with less work.

As we age, physical activity is even more important to maintain healthy bones and muscles. Resistance training in particular helps maintain bone and muscle mass, and can even aid metabolism and reduce the risk of obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure.

So which exercise is best for your heart? Libonati says to think about the acronym FIT: Frequency, Intensity and Time.

  • Frequency: Exercise five days a week, and find something you like so you’re more likely to stick with it.
  • Intensity: Do the talk test. You should be able to hold a normal conversation with little breathing trouble while exercising.
  • Time: Exercise 30 to 60 minutes per day, and remember it doesn’t have to be done all at once.