Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

How do I increase my exercise?

Lack of exercise is a major risk factor for coronary heart disease. People who are inactive are much more likely to develop heart disease than active people. Anyone who is at risk for heart disease should start a program of regular physical activity. But first, check with your doctor to see where you should begin.

Exercising regularly is good for your heart because it may help to:

  • lower your total blood cholesterol
  • lower your LDL, known as the bad cholesterol
  • lower your trigylcerides
  • raise your HDL, known as the good cholesterol
  • lower your blood pressure
  • lower your risk for heart disease

Exercising regularly also helps you in these ways.

  • It decreases your risk for developing diabetes.
  • If you have diabetes, exercise helps control your blood glucose.
  • It prevents bone loss and lowers your risk for osteoporosis.
  • It helps you achieve and maintain a healthy body weight.
  • It increases your ability to manage stress.
  • It improves your sleep.
  • It enhances your sense of well-being. Or stated simply, it just makes you feel better all around.

When you exercise, your heart pumps more blood through your blood vessels. This helps condition your heart and prevent blood clots. When your heart's conditioned, it doesn't have to work as hard to pump blood during your normal activity or at times of stress. This may reduce your risk of heart attack. Regular exercise also makes daily activities, such as climbing the stairs, easier.

Just about everyone can benefit from some form of exercise. Even if you're older or you've had a heart attack, you still need to make physical activity a regular part of your program to help control your blood pressure. Research has shown that people who have had a heart attack and who engage in regular physical activity live longer and have a better quality of life.

Some studies have shown that more intensive lifestyle changes can help lower your blood pressure. You may have heard of several doctors - especially Dr. Dean Ornish - who have programs for this. If you and your doctor have decided that you should follow an intensive lifestyle program, see How do I make intensive changes to my exercise program? If you are younger and healthier, all the better! You have many years of good health to protect.