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Exercise Smart for your Healthy Heart

Exercise is an essential part of any healthy lifestyle. Benefits such as weight loss, lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, management of blood sugar, and a stronger heart can help lower the risk of developing heart disease. Exercise can also improve your condition if you already suffer from heart disease.


Before beginning an exercise program, it is necessary to talk with your physician about any limitations that you may have regarding exercise. Discuss goals, any potential risks, and/or safety considerations that you may need to follow.

Where to begin

If you have been sedentary, it is important to start slowly, gradually increasing the duration and the intensity of the exercise in a reasonable manner. Do not force yourself to overdo exercise, particularly in the beginning.

Set specific long-term goals, such as weight loss, and/or lowering cholesterol. Short-term goals should be set as well, so that you gradually build up to the ultimate long-term goal. Be sure that your goals are realistic. Ask your physician or exercise professional for guidance if needed.

Reap the benefits

  • Exercise – in combination with proper nutrition and weight loss -- can help increase HDL or "good" cholesterol levels, bring down LDL or "bad" cholesterol levels and reduce triglycerides. In some patients, this combination may reduce the need for cholesterol-lowering medications.
  • Cardiovascular exercise may help reduce the risk of developing hypertension by 19 percent to 30 percent. Exercise may also assist in lowering blood pressure for those individuals who have been diagnosed with hypertension.
  • Regular exercise, at a moderate pace, reduces the risk of death from heart disease by approximately 30 percent.
  • Exercise can increase insulin sensitivity. Exercise assists in the prevention and control of type II diabetes.
  • Exercise can help control weight. Cardiovascular exercise helps burn calories. The more you do the more you burn. Resistance exercise can also help to manage weight. Resistance exercise, such as weight training, increases the body’s resting metabolic rate (RMR), which is the number of calories you burn every day at rest. Even on days that you do not exercise; you can burn more calories at rest.
  • Lower body fat can decrease the risk of developing high cholesterol, hypertension, and diabetes. All of these conditions increase the likelihood of developing serious health complications for the heart.

How much is enough?

Cardiovascular exercise should be performed for 30 minutes each day, on a minimum of 5 days per week. For those who suffer from diabetes, increasing the time to 45 minutes to 60 minutes on most days of the week is ideal. Appropriate intensity should be determined by your physician or exercise professional; however, moderate-intensity cardiovascular exercise is ideal for exercising safely, as well as for gaining the benefits mentioned above. Sweat is not an appropriate measurement of intensity. You should be able to carry on a conversation with the person next to you with relative ease, but arguing would cause you to be out of breath fairly quickly.

Resistance exercise should be included in a weekly routine to maintain a higher resting metabolism. Resistance exercise is classified as any specialized method of training that encompasses a wide range of resistive loads in order to increase an individual’s capability for strength. Exercises that are considered resistance exercises include Pilates, calisthenics, and those that use free weights, machine weights, exercise balls, or bands. Resistance exercises should be performed two to three times per week for every major muscle group.

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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...#14137