Good overall fitness is based on aerobic fitness, strength, and flexibility. Each of these is important. For the health of your heart, any type of exercise is better than none, but aerobic fitness has the most benefits. Aerobic activity is exercise that causes your body to use oxygen in order to burn fat for energy. Typically, this requires activity that is sustained over a period of time and that uses the large muscles of your arms and legs. This type of exercise makes your heart work harder. Over time, it strengthens and conditions your heart.

What Should I Know About Aerobic Exercise?

In order to maximize your cardiovascular fitness level, experts recommend that your aerobic exercise is strenuous enough to raise your heart rate to a certain level. This level is called your target heart rate. In addition, your aerobic exercise should keep your heart rate elevated for at least 20 minutes.

It may be helpful for you to know about these guidelines. But, you don't have to exercise at this level of intensity to lower your risk for heart and blood vessel disease. Even frequent moderate aerobic activity has been shown to improve health.

Some examples of aerobic activities include the following:

  • walking
  • jogging
  • jumping rope
  • cycling
  • swimming
  • rowing
  • cross-country skiing
  • dancing
  • tennis
What Should I Know About Strength Training?

The American Heart Association and the American College of Sports Medicine recommends strength training, also called resistance training, for healthy individuals and low-risk cardiac patients.

Strength training has these benefits.

  • It helps develop muscle strength and endurance.
  • It may lower blood pressure.
  • It helps control blood glucose.
  • It helps prevent bone injuries, especially in older people.
  • It makes everyday activities easier.

How much strength training you need. Your healthcare team should set up and monitor any strength-training program you undertake. For healthy, low-risk individuals who are younger than 60, the AHA recommends:

  • 8 to 10 simple exercises that you can do at home
  • a single set of 8 to 15 repetitions for each exercise
  • doing all the exercises 2 to 3 days a week

Who should not do strength training. The AHA does not recommend strength training if you have any of these conditions:

  • uncontrolled high blood pressure
  • angina of recent onset, angina that occurs at rest, or frequent or severe angina
  • uncontrolled heart rhythm problems called arrhythmia
  • heart pumping problems called congestive heart failure
  • heart valve disease

Before you begin any physical fitness program, make sure that you check with your doctor to see what is best for you.