Get Physical to Beat Heart Disease
Work hard for your heart--and reduce your risk for heart disease--by starting an exercise program and sticking with it.
Whether you're curled up with a book or sprinting for a bus, your heart works hard for you. Consider: A healthy heart beats 100,000 times a day--2.5 billion times in 70 years --and pumps about 2,000 gallons of blood daily.
To help your heart do its job and to prevent heart disease--the top killer of Americans--take stock of your fitness routine.
Doctors learned long ago that physical activity reduces the risk for heart disease. But a recent study in Circulation, the journal of the American Heart Association, analyzed 33 studies to see just how much exercise helps.
The study found that people who met the basic U.S. physical activity recommendation and exercised at a moderate pace for 150 minutes a week (about 21 minutes every day) reduced their heart disease risk by 14 percent compared with those who didn't exercise at all. People who worked out for 300 minutes a week (the advanced recommendation) reduced their heart disease risk by 20 percent compared with those who had no activity.
Although the study proved that more exercise is better, it also showed that some is better than none. Just like any other muscle, your heart gets stronger with exercise. Unfortunately, more than 80 percent of U.S. adults don't meet the exercise guidelines.
If you're among them, no sweat. Here's what you can do to get in the game and make your heart healthier.
Walk This Way
Exercising regularly helps lower and manage blood pressure, improve cholesterol levels, and manage your weight. All of these outcomes reduce your risk for heart disease.
A fitness routine can also cut the risk for diabetes in half, especially for overweight people who lose as little as 5 to 7 percent of their body weight. That's just 10 to 14 pounds for a 200-pound person. People with diabetes have a two to four times greater risk for heart disease than people without diabetes.
You'll get the most heart-health benefits by walking briskly and doing other moderate to vigorously intense aerobic activities, such as jogging, water aerobics, basketball, cycling, doubles tennis, dancing, and gardening for 75 to 300 minutes a week. But even an hour of weekly walking is tied to a lower risk for heart disease. The bottom line: Do what you can.
If you've never been much of a fitness buff or you're getting back into it after taking a break, get your doctor's OK. Then start slow and gradually up the ante.
A realistic initial goal is to walk for 30 minutes each day, or work up to that objective. Then pick up the pace and intensity and exercise more often. Even 10 minutes here and there throughout the day helps. Take a quick walk around the block on your lunch hour, for instance.
Strength training aids your heart, too. Strength training can increase HDL ("good") cholesterol, lower LDL ("bad") cholesterol and triglycerides, and improve insulin and blood sugar levels. By making your muscles and bones stronger, it boosts your fitness.
So become a regular on the weight machines at the gym or use resistance bands or your own body weight. Whatever equipment you use to get stronger, work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms) for eight to 12 reps per set. Increase the weight as each move gets easier.
By Sandra Gordon, a feature writer for Vitality. For tips on how to start a walking program, visit
© Krames StayWell. Information is the opinion of the sourced authors and organizations. Personal decisions regarding health, diet, and exercise should be made only after consultation with the reader's own medical advisers. This material may not be reproduced for redistribution without written permission from Krames StayWell.