Whenever you start a new course of exercise, it's important to evaluate your health. If you have heart problems or take certain prescription drugs (such as beta blockers, for example), a talk with a doctor is a good idea before you begin. And don't think a faulty heart will keep you out of the game -- there is such a thing as cardiac rehabilitation to get you stronger.
Now that you've gotten that out of the way, you need a goal more specific than "exercise more." (We all know how that New Year's resolution usually turns out.) To improve your heart and lung health, you'll want to raise your heart rate to what's called your target heart rate during the exercise period (see sidebar).
On to a plan of exercise:
- For healthy adults under the age of 65, the American Heart Association and American College of Sports Medicine recommend moderately intense cardio exercise 30 minutes a day, five days a week. Moderately intense means breaking a sweat but being able to carry on a conversation.
- Another option is vigorously intense cardio exercise 20 minutes a day, three days a week. Add to this eight to 10 strength-training exercises twice a week, with eight to 12 repetitions of each exercise.
Start with the lower end of your target heart rate, and as you improve, increase your intensity to bring your heart rate to the higher end of your target.