The following content is created in partnership with Memorial Healthcare System. It does not reflect the work or opinions of NBC Miami's editorial staff. Click here to learn more about Memorial Healthcare System.

Nothing improves your heart health as effectively as exercise: Basketball, hockey, crewall these activities and many more can improve your cardiovascular health. And, given the athlete-friendly South Florida climate, there’s no shortage of opportunity to get outdoors and get active.

But is your heart ready?

To improve your heart health, you need to tax it. Like all the other muscles in your body, the more you use your heart, the stronger it gets. And the more aerobic exercise you do (especially at higher intensities), the better your cardiovascular fitness will be. 

Putting this stress on your cardiovascular system, though, can cause issues if you have cardiovascular disease you’re unaware of.

So how do you make sure your heart is fit enough for fitness? And how do you prepare your body?

How sports and athletic training can make your heart healthier: When you walk, run, swim, cycle, play basketball or take part in any kind of workout, you’re engaging in aerobic activity. Time and time again, this kind of exercise has been shown to improve cardiovascular fitness and health, including lowering blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar.

How athletic activity can pose a heart risk: The risk of having a cardiovascular event has been shown to increase temporarily when engaging in athletic activity. However—and this can’t be stressed enough—the cardiovascular benefits of exercise for most people far outweigh these risks.

The younger set, meanwhile, is more susceptible to congenital heart problems, such as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (an enlarged heart), congenital heart defects (flaws present at birth), and myocarditis (inflammation of the heart).

Playing it safe before you play: If you want to improve your fitness, you should speak to your physician before starting a program.

The most important rule: Listen to your body. Be aware of any symptoms such as chest pain (when you exert yourself); abnormal/disproportionate/inappropriate shortness of breath; increasing fatigue; swollen ankles or legs; skipping or irregular heartbeats; and fainting or feeling like you're going to faint. Any of these symptoms could be a sign of underlying heart disease and should be evaluated by your doctor before you start or continue an exercise program.

Multiple tests can be done to evaluate these symptoms, including, but not limited to, an electrocardiogram, exercise stress test, Holter monitor, echocardiogram, and coronary artery CT scan.

For most, engaging in an exercise program will be the healthiest thing you can do. Still, this kind of physical activity can produce symptoms that concern you. When this happens, have a doctor evaluate you before you continue your workout program. Otherwise, get out there and get healthy!

Do you want to certify your heart for sports? Have you already had a cardiac event? To make sure your heart is ready for exercise, visit a sports cardiologist at Memorial Sports Medicine Center to check you out or get you back on your feet.

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