A key part of heart health is exercising your heart muscle. Just like all other muscles, your heart needs regular exercise to stay healthy.
“Couch potatoes” are twice as likely to develop heart disease as active people. Inactive people have more doctor visits, illness and chronic conditions, hospitalizations and take more medicine. Inactivity is expensive. You have to pay more co-payments, deductibles, medicines and hospital bills.
Poor health is expensive. Here’s a low-cost, seven-step solution:
- Getting active doesn’t require a lot of time or expense. Don’t overthink it. Something as simple as a 10-minute walk, three times a day, on most days of the week (or 30-min. a day, six days a week), will reduce heart disease risk. Be sure to wear a supportive pair of walking or athletic shoes.
- Make a commitment to yourself. If you hate to exercise, ask yourself why. Are you too tired? Too busy? Prefer watching television or surfing the net? Are you afraid to exercise because of other health problems? People who are physically active could use these same excuses – but they don’t. They know the benefits of staying active.
- Pick personal reasons to increase activity. A commitment to exercise is stronger if you have personal reasons for doing it that are meaningful to you. Many people make a commitment so they can feel better and improve their health. Regular physical activity does more than strengthen your heart muscle; it also reduces other risk factors for heart disease: high blood pressure (BP), high cholesterol, diabetes and being overweight.
Regular and sustained physical activity (for example, walking a minimum of 30-45 min. a day) can:
- Strengthen lungs, muscles, joints and bones
- Build stamina and give you more energy
- Improve balance and reduce falls
- Sharpen your brain’s working ability (cognition) and memory
- Help you deal with stress and improve mood
- Improve sleep quality, especially if done outdoors in the morning to take advantage of your natural circadian rhythms
- Reduce the risk of stroke, colon and other cancers, high BP, diabetes and depression
- Reduce obesity – if you want to lose weight, you’ll need to aim for 60-90 minutes of activity on most days. Adults need to burn an extra 3,500 calories a week to lose one pound.
- Enhance circulation and reduce BP
- Lessen pain of arthritis and fibromyalgia and improve function
- Improve glucose levels, especially if done after meals
- Strengthen your immune system
- Help slow or stop the progression of aging, even reverse it
- Staying motivated is easier if you:
- Exercise with people you like and who share your fitness goals
- Schedule activity into your day – literally write it down like a doctor’s appointment to get yourself into the habit of daily activity
- Make exercise the first thing you do in the morning
- Combine exercise with a task that’s already part of your routine like walking the dog, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, parking far away from the store entrance
- Start slow and build up your time or distance gradually to avoid injury
- Set achievable goals for yourself – distance, time, or weight or inches lost
- Track progress toward your goals either by distance, time or intensity with a pedometer, Fitbit or other device
- Join a group activity to increase socialization – a walking club at a shopping mall, gym or yoga classes, or a square-dance group
- Share your activity goals with friends and family; ask for their moral support or ask them to join you
- Remind yourself of the original reasons for exercising whenever you want to skip a day’s activity
- Pick something fun. If you don’t enjoy walking or going to a gym, try dancing, gardening or yard work, bicycling with your children, yoga, or a game of basketball or tennis. Making exercise fun is the best way to stay motivated and make it a habit for life. Any moderately intense activity or game will work as long as you’re breathing heavier but can still keep up a conversation without gasping. If you can’t, slow down a bit.
- Talk to your doctor first. If you’ve been inactive for a long time or are over 50, check with your doctor before starting an exercise program. Tell him or her what medications you’re taking, any chronic conditions you have, if you easily lose your balance or feel breathless after mild exertion.
Make a choice. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, killing 610,000 Americans every year, that is one in every four deaths. Others live with permanent disabilities caused by heart disease. That’s your future if you don’t start scheduling more physical activity into your day. Think about it. Are feeling good and being healthy more important to you than disability or death? No one can make you be active; it’s your
For more information
- “Your Guide to Physical Activity and Your Heart” at /nih.gov/health/public/heart
- We Can! Web site at http://wecan.nhlbi.nih.gov