Staying active and keeping your body moving has real benefits. Not only can being active improve your mental and physical health, it can also help you manage risk factors for heart disease and other chronic conditions, boost your energy level, and generally improve your quality of life.
Why is exercise important?
Research continues to show that getting regular exercise—whatever your fitness level—is one of the most important things you can do for your health. In fact, studies suggest that people who are physically active are less likely to develop heart disease than those who are inactive—even after accounting for smoking, alcohol use and diet.
“Getting regular exercise can help keep risk factors for heart disease and other conditions in check, and help you stay heart healthy,” says JoAnne M. Foody, MD, FACC, CardioSmart.org Editor-in-Chief. “Life is busy, but it’s really important to build in time to be physically active—even if it’s just a walk around your neighborhood with a friend or opting to take the stairs instead of the elevator at work.”
Being physically active can help you:
On the flip side, if you don’t stay active, you are more likely to develop or experience worsening cardiovascular disease. Being less active or fit means you are more likely to have high blood pressure or gain weight. In fact, exercising can lower blood pressure by 4 to 9 mmHg – that’s the same reduction one would expect by using some blood pressure-lowering medications. It also boosts “good” cholesterol.
Something for everyone
The good news is there are exercises you can do to stay fit and maintain strength regardless of your physical health. So try not to let the fear of injury or overdoing it get in the way of adopting a regular exercise program. Moderate-intensity aerobic activity (brisk walking, for example) is generally safe for most people. Exercise is also a central part of cardiac rehabilitation programs to help prevent a future cardiac event or procedure; it teaches people how to be more active and make lifestyle changes that can lead to a stronger heart and better health overall.
Talk with your health care team about designing an exercise program that is tailored to your specific goals and needs.
It doesn’t have to be a marathon
If you hear “exercise” and automatically think of long-distance or endurance running or hard-core gym workouts, think again. There are a host of activities that can help get your heart pumping. Gardening, taking a walk around the neighborhood, parking farther away from your office building or the shopping mall and daily chores all count when it comes to staying active. For many older people or those with medical conditions, water aerobics is a good (and safe) option.
No matter what exercise you choose, start slowly and gradually increase your level of activity. Talk with your doctor if you have an existing heart or other condition; he/she may want to check your heart rate while you exercise.
Setting (Realistic) Goals
Setting exercise goals that fit your lifestyle is important to keep you engaged and motivated. Think about setting short and long-term goals that are easily measured. For example, first walking or jogging to a certain landmark and, over time, signing up to participate in a local 5K fun run or race. Another goal might be to lower your blood pressure or cholesterol level. If you are recovering from a heart attack, maybe your goal is to complete a cardiac rehab program.
Of course, how much and what type of exercise you should get will depend on your:
Experts recommend getting 30 minutes of moderate activity most days. Newer research shows that even 10 minute bursts of activity at a time can also be beneficial.
Tips for getting and staying active
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Physical Activity & Health: http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/everyone/health/index.html?s_cid=cs_284
American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Guidelines on Lifestyle Changes: http://content.onlinejacc.org/article.aspx?articleid=1770218
(Click to view infographic)