Exercising is one of the single best ways to help improve your health. But many people feel that fitting in activity is not easy. Here you can find tools and tips to help you realize your fitness goals, whatever they may be.
No matter how active you are or how active you want to be, we can help educate and lead you on your journey to a healthier lifestyle.
Exercise and Heart Health
Staying physically fit has seemingly endless benefits. In addition to helping prevent heart disease, exercise is known to reduce stress and improve sleep, energy level, mood and even brain functioning. For people with heart disease, exercise can keep symptoms in check and prevent problems from getting worse.
Most Americans don’t get enough exercise and, therefore, don’t reap the health benefits. Find out how you can stay active at any age—even if you have heart disease.
Exercise and Your Heart
Regular exercise reduces the risk of many forms of cardiovascular disease, including heart attack, stroke, peripheral artery disease and coronary heart disease.
How? Exercise can:
- Lower blood pressure.
- Lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol that can clog your heart’s arteries.
- Open blood vessels and gets your heart pumping, which improves circulation.
- Help you shed excess pounds, reducing the strain on your heart.
- Help your body maintain the right balance of hormones and other factors involved in clotting and inflammation that may promote fatty buildups in the heart’s arteries.
In addition to the benefits for your heart health, exercise:
- Improves mood and reduces depression by boosting “feel-good” hormones called endorphins.
- Promotes sleep.
- Improves sex drive.
- Keeps stress levels in check.
- Builds lean muscle mass, which helps you burn calories even when you’re not exercising.
- Improves balance and prevents falls, especially among older people.
- Lowers blood sugar levels, which helps reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.
- Helps prevent osteoporosis and arthritis.
- Helps prevent some types of cancer, and may improve the body’s response to cancer treatments.
- May ward off dementia, or at least delay its onset.
- Can help you build a healthier lifestyle overall. Research shows that people who exercise regularly are less likely to smoke and tend to choose healthier food options.
What’s the Right Amount of Exercise?
Optimally, you should aim for at least 2 1/2 hours of moderate-intensity activity plus two sessions of muscle strength training per week, according to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. For example, you could take a brisk 30-minute walk at least five times a week and do two sessions of weight lifting or Pilates. What’s moderate intensity? Use the talking—or breath—test: If you can easily carry on a conversation with full sentences, you’re not exerting enough effort.
Try increasing the intensity of your activity. If you’re walking, quicken your pace. If you’re doing a cardio workout, add some jumps. For strengthening, push yourself by adding more weight or more repetitions. Alternatively, you can aim for 75 minutes of high-intensity activity per week, plus two sessions of muscle strength training. Examples are running, high-impact aerobics and high-intensity interval training, called HIIT. When doing high-intensity exercise, you should be breathing hard such that you can only say a few words at a time.
If you’re new to exercise, it’s OK to start slowly with smaller amounts of time. Begin with shorter—but regular—sessions and work your way up. Remember, any amount of physical activity is better than none at all. If you have heart disease or another heart condition, check with your health care team before starting or intensifying your activities.
If You Have a Heart Condition
If you have been diagnosed with heart disease, then you have all the more reason to exercise! Regular exercise has been shown to help:
- Ease the symptoms of chronic heart conditions, such as coronary heart disease and heart failure
- Speed healing after a heart attack or stroke
- Help you live longer
Remember: Your heart is a muscle that needs to be strengthened. And it’s never too late to start.
Talk to Your Doctor
Talk to your doctor before starting an exercise program, especially if you have:
- Chest pain
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Previous heart attack
- Heart failure
- Another form of heart disease
Your doctor may want you to take an exercise stress test to identify what level of exercise will be safe and beneficial for you. For some people, taking part in a cardiac rehabilitation program is the best first step before exercising on their own.
Cardiac Rehab and Heart Disease
Exercise is actually a key part of managing cardiovascular disease. Cardiac rehabilitation is a medically supervised program that involves exercise and other components to help improve heart health after a person has surgery, or suffers a heart attack or other significant cardiac event.
Despite its many benefits, research shows that just 1 in 3 people recovering from a heart attack are referred to cardiac rehabilitation. Of those who are, only 1 in 4 ever go.
If you’ve had a heart attack or other cardiac event, ask your doctor about cardiac rehabilitation to help you make the changes you need to live longer and feel better.
Do You Have ‘Sitting Disease’?
Sitting is the new smoking! According to recent studies, too much sitting can be bad for your health, even if you exercise regularly.
People who are mostly sedentary face a higher risk of chronic diseases and death than people who spend more time on their feet.
Most of us sit for more than half of our waking hours—an amount researchers say is too much.
How many hours do you spend sitting at a computer, driving, watching TV or doing other sedentary activities in a typical day?Move More
Think of three ways you could spend more of that time standing or moving. For example:
- Opt for an activity break to stretch and move your body vs a snack or coffee break
- Walk around or do leg raises during your next conference call
- Keep stretching bands and/or hand weights near where you watch TV and use the commercials as a cue to get up and move
- Set an alarm at the top of every hour and get out of your chair at work and home (some fitness devices can be programmed to do this, too)
How to Get the Exercise You Need
Optimally, you should get at least 2 1/2 hours of moderate-intensity activity (or 75 minutes of high-intensity activity) plus two sessions per week of strength training that engages all major muscle groups.
Here’s how to build a safe—and fun—heart-healthy routine.
Types of Exercises
Try to get a combination of aerobic (cardio) exercise and muscle strength training.
Aerobic exercises are those that make you breathe hard and get your heart pumping. They provide an energy boost and are terrific for heart health. Muscle-strengthening exercises are important for balance and bone health. Both types of exercise burn calories.
|Aerobic or cardio exercises||Stength training exercises|
|Brisk walking, jogging or runningSwimming, water aerobics or Aqua ZumbaCyclingAerobic/dance-style classesPlaying tennis or basketballCross country skiing or snow shoeing||Lifting free weights or barbellsUsing resistance bands to stretch and strengthen musclesSit-ups, push-ups and planksYoga, Pilates or tai chiWorkouts that engage your coreKettlebell workouts|
How to Avoid Overdoing It
Most people can safely exercise without any special medical evaluation. If you have chest pain, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, previous heart attack, heart failure or another form of heart disease, talk to your doctor before starting an exercise program.
Know When to Stop!
Stop exercising right away and call 911 if you experience chest pain or discomfort, are short of breath even when you stop exercising/exerting yourself, have dizziness or nausea, or if you notice your heart racing or “skipping a beat.”Exercise safety tips:
- If you’re new to exercise, start with shorter or less-intensive sessions and work your way up to five or more 30-minute sessions per week.
- Train your body and ramp up gradually before doing harder exercises.
- Before and after each workout, warm up/cool down with lighter exercises and stretches.
- Stay hydrated throughout your workout (if you have heart failure, ask your doctor about how much water you should drink).
- Learn your target heart rate and how to monitor your pulse. Research shows wrist-worn heart monitors aren’t always correct, so it’s best to learn how to check your pulse yourself.
- Listen to your muscles. It’s normal to feel some mild soreness after exercising, but it shouldn’t be too painful.
- Avoid exercising outside in extreme cold, heat or humidity, or on days with high levels of air pollution.
“Breathless with exercise should be gauged by the breath test,” says Andrew Freeman, MD, director of clinical cardiology at National Jewish Health in Denver. That means exercising to a level during which only a few words can be said.
“Anything more should be scaled back or signals you should seek a physician’s input. If you are feeling short of breath and turning pale, having chest pain or getting lightheaded, then exercise needs to stop. You may need to seek urgent care,” Freeman says.
Remember, if you have a heart condition or are recovering from a cardiac event, talk with your health care team to find the right routine for you.