Exercise to Healthy Hearts

Movement is a gift to be treasured and enjoyed. Consider that inactivity puts you at risk for cardiovascular problems, even if there are no other risk factors.

How can exercise help you?

Exercise offers many benefits, as it:

  • Lowers resting heart rate and blood pressure
  • Aids in weight loss and helps reduce the risk of age-related weight gain
  • Makes breathing more efficient
  • Creates stronger muscles and bones
  • Reduces the risk of death from heart disease by approximately 30 percent (regular exercise at moderate pace)
  • Helps improve glucose tolerance, thereby reducing the risk of diabetes
  • Helps control blood sugar in diabetics
  • Aids in raising HDL (high-density lipoprotein) or "good" cholesterol by 8 to 12 percent but only with long-term moderate paced aerobic exercise
  • Lowers total cholesterol but typically only if accompanied by weight loss
  • Helps reduce triglyceride levels
  • Decreases stress
  • Improves quality of life

What keeps you from exercising?

Reasons commonly given as barriers include:

  • I just don’t have enough motivation.
  • I don’t know what to do.
  • I don’t have enough time.
  • Exercise is boring.
  • I can’t do anything inside.
  • I’m not disciplined.
  • I don’t have enough money (to join an exercise club).

How can you overcome your barriers?

The answer to this is to find something that motivates you. Make exercise personal. Use a chronic health condition, family history, or positive outcome (like keeping medication costs down) to help you with motivation. Review the benefits of exercise. Select something that you want to change and find a way to keep track of it. Examples of things that you can keep track of include:

  • Blood pressure
  • Medicine changes
  • Cholesterol levels
  • Weight
  • How many steps you take
  • How many days in a row you exercise

You might also try writing down your feelings and details on activities in a diary.

What to do?

First, think about exercise as simply increasing your activity level.

Structured exercise and increased daily activity are not always the same thing. Taking the steps instead of taking the elevator, taking the least direct path to any destination, or just getting up and walking around the office for a few minutes does not constitute exercise. However, these things can help you burn more calories throughout the day.

Accumulate 30 minutes of moderate activity at least five days a week (or get 20 minutes of vigorous activity three days a week.) The suggestion of "at least five days a week" means that every day is better, but you can break the activity down into shorter sessions of less intense exercise. The use of the word "accumulate" means that you can get your 30 minutes in how ever you want to do it, such as getting 10 minutes of exercise three days per day or 15 minutes twice a day.

What is "moderate activity"?

Activity can be measured in units called METS (metabolic equivalents), which is a term describing how much "energy" you need to use to do something.

  • For example, 1 MET is required for lying down and existing.
  • Actions that require less than 3 METS are considered light activity. You can sing while you are doing these things.
  • Actions that use 3-6 METS are considered moderate activity. You can carry on a conversation while you are doing these things.
  • Actions that require more than 6 METS are considered vigorous activity. You might be able to grunt, but you really can’t talk.
Examples of activities and MET level ranges
Type of activity MET level range*
* For every MET increase in capacity (ie., your ability to move up from light activity to maintain a moderate activity level; move up from moderate to maintain a vigorous activity level) you reduce your chance of death from heart disease by 9 to 12 percent.
Stair climbing 4-8
Walking 3-6
Cycling 3-8+
Running 8-15
Cross country skiing 6-12+
Downhill skiing 5-8
Dancing 3-8
Tai chi 3-5
Swimming 4-8+
Tennis 4-9+
Hiking 3-7+
Backpacking 5-11
Basketball 7-12
Volleyball 3-6
Football (touch) 6-10

Possibilities for exercise

Let’s take tai chi as an example. It has a rating of about 4 METS and works on balance, strength, flexibility, and endurance. Tai chi can be done in a group—you can take a family member or friend with you. Also, you can easily practice it every day at home without special equipment. It is considered safe for almost anyone.

To find places that might offer classes in tai chi, contact community centers, martial art centers, private instructors, or lists of courses offered at high schools or universities.

Let’s consider walking for exercise. Try it. Walk at a pace where you can carry on a conversation, but could not sing or argue with the person next to you. Increasing the distance and time it takes, or incorporating hills into the routine can make the exercise more intense.

You can use a pedometer, a great invention. It is recommended that you walk 10,000 steps every day. Take a baseline number for a typical day and then try to increase a little at a time. Any increase in steps will help you. You might try to increase by 500 to 1,000 steps by the end of a month.

Pedometers do not necessarily mean that you are doing more aerobic exercise. However, they do help keep track of daily activity. Pedometers are sold at sporting goods stores, retailers, or online stores.


You may want to keep track of your progress. You can consider first the question of how much you have done lately. When you start exercising, you might only be able to do a certain amount and still be able to carry on a conversation. Increasing time, speed, or frequency will help you along.

For example:

I haven’t been doing any exercises for a few years. When I walk at a comfortable pace, I am out of breath after about 10 minutes, which takes me up to Mrs. Smith’s house and back.

  • Start—Walk at a comfortable paces for about 10 minutes, three times a day (to Mrs. Smith’s house and back).
  • Progress—Walk at a comfortable pace for 15 minutes twice a day to the end of the street and back.
  • Progress—Walk for 15 minutes twice a day to a distance of a street and a half. (This means you will have to walk a little faster to cover this increase in distance.)
  • Progress—Walk the new distance three times (three laps) once a day in less than 30 minutes.

Being careful

  • If you are unsure of what is safe for any medical condition, or if you have not been regularly active, please talk to your doctor.
  • If something hurts, don’t do it.
  • Do not continue if you experience any cardiovascular symptoms, such as increased shortness of breath, chest pain, or dizziness. If symptoms arise, contact a medical professional immediately.
  • Any time you begin something new, start smaller, slower, less than you think, and see how your body reacts.
  • Do not make any significant changes overnight. Exercise is a physiological stress, and should therefore be incorporated slowly. Doing too much too fast can cause more harm than good and may limit your capability to maintain a regular exercise program.
  • Watch your medicines. They might need to be adjusted as you begin to exercise.

Continue your work by trying to implement some of these ideas. Encourage the people around you to do the same.

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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 2/10/2009...#11795