Exercise Today for a Healthy Heart — No Sweat!

Although 30 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity, three to four times a week, is ideal for your heart health, some activity is better than none at all. Here are some examples of how physical activity can help your heart:

  • If you manage to incorporate a total of 30 minutes of moderate-level physical activity (raking leaves, climbing stairs etc.) into your life each day, you'll improve your cholesterol levels, blood pressure and body fat percentages. One Journal of the American Medical Association study of sedentary people found that those who did so received the same health benefits as those who participated in vigorous exercise (swimming, biking, running) for 20 to 60 minutes, five times a week.
  • In a 1999 study from the Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research, men who were at the lowest levels of fitness were more likely to die from cardiovascular causes than those who smoked. Both groups, though, were two to three times more likely to die from coronary causes than men without risk factors.
  • If your heart's in good shape, it can pump the same amount of blood in 45 to 50 beats as the heart of a physically inactive person in 70 to 75 beats. In one year, the heart of a sedentary person will have to pump 13 million more times each year than the well-conditioned heart.

What's in It for You?

The best exercises for strengthening your heart are aerobic activities such as brisk walking, jogging, cycling and swimming. Regular physical activity will help reduce your risk of many factors that can contribute to disease. It may:

  • make you more likely to cut down on or stop cigarette smoking.
  • reduce or prevent high blood pressure.
  • increase your HDL, or "good" cholesterol.
  • help maintain your desired body weight.

Different activities will help your body to different degrees. Below, we break down the benefits of various activities, according to the American Heart Association. When you participate in these activities, you should be able to talk comfortably. If you can't, or if you're feeling faint or having a hard time breathing, you're pushing yourself too hard.

  • Activities that condition the heart and lungs if done three to four times a week for at least 30 minutes at a brisk pace: aerobic dancing, bicycling, cross country skiing, hiking uphill, ice hockey, jogging, jumping rope, rowing, running in place, stair-climbing, stationary cycling, swimming, walking briskly.
  • Activities that can also condition your heart and lungs as above but will not burn as many calories: downhill skiing, basketball, field hockey, calisthenics, handball racquetball, soccer, squash, tennis (singles), volleyball, walking moderately.
  • Activities that can relieve tension, improve coordination and muscle tone, and burn some calories: bowling, gardening, golf, baseball, ping-pong, housework, softball, leisurely walking.

To be more physically active throughout the day, follow these suggestions from the American Heart Association:

  • Use the stairs instead of an elevator.
  • Park farther from your office or a store than necessary and walk the extra distance. If you ride public transportation, get off a stop or two early and walk the difference.
  • If you've been sitting down for a while, get up and stretch and walk around a bit.
  • Take a brisk walk around your neighborhood, maybe after dinner instead of watching T.V.
  • Do housework at a brisk pace.
  • Mow your lawn.
  • Carry your groceries.