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Exercise for Your Heart Health

Regular exercise is good for your health. A moderate amount of activity performed three to five days per week can:

  • Improve your heart health
  • Improve your heart disease risk factors
  • Improve your strength and feeling of well-being

Improve your heart health

  • Reduce the risk of dying from heart disease
  • Help your heart and cardiovascular system work more efficiently
  • Decrease symptoms of angina (chest discomfort) and heart failure

Improve your heart disease risk factors

  • Reduce risk of developing diabetes and high blood pressure
  • Improve blood sugar tolerance if you have diabetes
  • Help control high blood pressure, by as much as 8 to 10 points in both systolic and diastolic pressure.
  • Improve blood lipids (cholesterol, LDL, HDL and triglycerides) along with other strategies (diet and medications).
  • Support efforts to stop smoking
  • Control weight and reduce body fat

Improve your strength and feeling of well-being

  • Helps keep muscles, bones, and joints healthy
  • Increase your ability to do daily activities without getting tired
  • Improve your balance and flexibility
  • Maintain muscle tone, improve your posture, and reduce the risk of falling and fracturing bones
  • Lessen feelings of anxiety or depression
  • Improve your sense of well-being and help you feel good about yourself

To be safe and give you the most benefit, your program should be

  • Aerobic: this type of activity increases the rate and depth of your breathing, raises your heart rate and uses the large muscle groups. Examples include walking, cycling or swimming.
  • Regular: moderate intensity activity performed on most days of the week (starting with small amounts of activity and building up to 30 to 40 minutes of continuous activity, or if you prefer, 10 minutes increments throughout the day to equal 30 to 40 minutes
  • Safe: adults with health problems (such as heart disease, diabetes or obesity) or those at high risk, men over age 40 and women over age 50 should talk with their doctor before starting an exercise program.

Three phases of exercise

Like a recipe, these three phases are the essential ingredients of your exercise session:

1. The warm-up

This phase helps you move from rest to activity. Just as you allow a car to warm up when the engine is cold to prevent damage to the motor, a warm-up lessens the stress placed on your heart and muscles. The warm-up helps to slowly increase breathing, heart rate and body temperature. It also helps to improve flexibility and reduce muscle soreness.

The warm-up may include:

  • Stretching exercises
  • Range of motion activities
  • Your exercise activity at a very low intensity (for example, walking at a very slow pace)

For the best effects on your muscles and cardiovascular system, your warm-up should last about five minutes.

2. Conditioning

This phase follows the warm-up and provides you with the benefits of exercise. For the best results, remember these four important points in your Conditioning Phase:

  • Frequency: how often you need to exercise
    Exercise on most days of the week
  • Intensity – how vigorous you need to exercise
    Moderate intensity – enough to get your heart rate and breathing to increase
  • Duration – how long you need to exercise
    30 to 40 minutes of continuous exercise OR 10 minute increments to equal 30 to 40 minutes throughout the day.

If you haven’t exercised in a while, your heart, lungs, and muscles will need to work up to your exercise duration. Begin with shorter bouts of exercise, about 15 minutes or so, every other day. Progress by three to five minute increments per week until you reach your goal of 30 to 40 minutes on most days.

  • Type – the type of activity that will give you the desired results.
    Exercise must involve the large muscle groups. You can vary your routine by engaging in more than one activity. A combination of walking, swimming, and cycling strengthens several muscle groups and will prevent you from becoming bored.
3. Cool-down

This last phase allows your body to recover from the conditioning phase. Heart rate and blood pressure will return to near resting values. Cool-down does not mean sit down! In fact you should not stand still, sit or lie down right after exercise. This may cause you to feel dizzy, lightheaded or have palpitations.

During Cool-down:

  • Slowly decrease the intensity of your activity
  • Perform the stretching and range of motion exercises from your warm-up phase

Like the warm-up phase, the cool-down should last about five minutes for the best results.

Include all three phases in your exercise session to avoid injury and problems during exercise. Always consult a doctor before beginning any strenuous exercise program.

For more information about exercise


Resources

  • Keeping the Heart Healthy, In (E. Topol, ed.)Cleveland Clinic Heart Book, Hyperion: New York. pp.19-43.

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Reviewed: 12/13

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This information is provided by 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.

© Copyright 2014 Cleveland Clinic. All rights reserved.

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