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Physical Activity to Prevent Heart Disease

Get Moving: Designing a Personal Exercise Program

Inactive people are nearly twice as likely to develop heart disease as those who are more active, according to the U.S. Surgeon General’s Report on Physical Activity and Health. This is true even for people who have no other conditions or habits that increase their risk for heart disease.

How does exercise help your heart?

You don’t have to be a marathon runner or a member of a gym. Just 30 minutes of activity most days of the week – even something as simple as a brisk walk – is all you need to reduce your risk for heart disease. This level of activity lowers LDL (bad) cholesterol, increases HDL (good) cholesterol and lowers blood pressure. It lowers your chance of having a stroke, heart attack, hypertension, diabetes and other medical conditions. Exercise also helps you lose weight or maintain your weight, which helps lower risk for heart disease.

How much exercise do I need?

To reduce heart disease risk, adults need 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity most, and preferably all, days of the week. If you’re trying to lose weight or prevent weight gain, 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise is recommended. If this sounds like a lot of time, break it up. You get the same benefits from exercising in short increments, such as 10 minutes at a time, three times a day.

What is moderate intensity?

Moderate intensity means your breathing and heart rate are noticeably faster during an activity, but you can still carry on a conversation. Examples include brisk walking (a 15-minute mile), light yard work (raking, mowing the lawn, gardening), swimming, golf, light snow shoveling,
actively playing with children or casual biking. Studies show brisk walking reduces the risk for heart attack just as effectively as vigorous exercise, like jogging.

What is vigorous intensity?

Vigorous intensity means your heart rate is substantially increased and you are breathing too hard and fast to carry on a conversation. Examples include jogging/ running, swimming laps, heavy yard work, hiking, stair climbing, aerobics, weight lifting, competitive sports and jumping rope.

Make exercise fun and easy

The first step to sticking to an exercise program is finding activities you enjoy. Also try to change up your activities so that you do a variety of exercises each week. Exercising doesn’t have to cost you anything and you can fit it into your day. Try these exercise tips:

  • Walk 10 minutes on your lunch break.
  • Lift weights, stretch or ride a stationary bike while watching TV.
  • Run in place or walk up and down stairs in your home.
  • Take your children or grandchildren to the park and play with them.
  • Take turns with family members picking out favorite music and dancing together in the living room.
  • Explore the great outdoors. Find out where there are local parks, trails, nature areas – they are usually free.
  • Join a class. Many parks and city recreation centers offer free or low-cost fitness classes in yoga, tai chi, aerobics, dance and more.
  • Ask a child or grandchild to teach you their favorite game.
  • Take the stairs – up and down – instead of the elevator when out.
  • Park a few blocks from your destination or at the far end of a parking lot. If you use public transportation, get off a stop or two before your destination.
  • Take breaks at work or home to get up, stretch and walk around.

The buddy system

Exercise with friends or as part an organized exercise group is one of the best ways to stick to an exercise program. Check out the hours of nearby shopping malls. Many malls open early or stay open late just for walkers, providing a free, safe and weatherproof place to exercise.

Norton Healthcare offers the free Get Healthy Walking Club, where you can meet new friends and keep one another motivated. To learn about all of the club’s perks, call (502) 629-1234 or visit

Share your exercise goals with family and friends. If you can’t get them to join you, at least they can help motivate and support your efforts.

Safety first

Some people should talk to their doctor before starting an exercise program. If you have any of the following, consult with your doctor first: You have not been exercising for an extended period of time; you have a heart condition or have had a heart attack; you have chronic health conditions, difficulty balancing or you are taking medication that may affect your ability to exercise.

Proper clothes and shoes are important for exercising safely. You will need comfortable rubber-soled shoes and loose fitting, breathable clothing before you get started.

It’s important to start out slowly and gradually increase the time and intensity of your activity. Don’t let a little stiffness deter you. Some stiffness in your muscles is normal at first.

Drink plenty of fluids, especially water, before, during and after physical activity. If you’re going to be working out for more than an hour, you may want to pack a snack to keep your energy level up.

You can do it!
Becoming physically active may start as a reminder note on your calendar, but stick with it for just a couple weeks and you will be pleasantly surprised when it turns into a habit that you enjoy. In addition to improving your heart health, you will find you have more stamina, energy and ability to cope with the ups and downs of daily life.

Want to learn more?
For other healthy lifestyle tips, visit or call (502) 629-1234 to register for a free class or health screening.

To find a physician visit our Find a Doc or call (502) 629-1234 for a physician referral.

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