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The Minimum Exercise You Need

Recent U.S. government guidelines recommended 60 minutes of physical activity daily to prevent weight gain. For those of us who have lost weight, they recommend 60 to 90 minutes a day to keep the pounds off.

But don't let that scare you. Many cardiologists in the "trenches" say you can improve your heart health with less exercise.

"I think it's a little excessive to expect 60 to 90 minutes -- even if it is a healthy goal; I'm happy if I can get a patient to exercise 30 minutes three to five times a week. And in truth, mortality studies suggest that this really is adequate," says Boyd Lyles, MD, medical director of the Heart Health and Wellness Center in Dallas, Texas.

What's more, says Lyles, splitting those 30 workout minutes into three 10-minute or two 15-minute segments works just as well.

Recently a second study in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise compared the benefits from 30 minutes of brisk walking with those from 10-minute walks several times a day. The result: Both the long and the short walks improved aerobic fitness equally well in previously sedentary people. And they proved equally effective in decreasing other risk factors for heart disease, including body fat and blood pressure.

"The point is to get up off the sofa and move -- because it's the moving that reaps the benefits," he says.

Getting Started Getting Fit

If you're like most adults, it could be 10, 20, or even 30 years since you participated in any kind of meaningful physical activity. And if that is the case, doctors say the last thing you want to do is put on the football jersey and head for a weekend game of touch football with your nephew and his college buddies. Likewise ladies, don't dust off those old aerobic tapes and expect to go full tilt on day one.

Start slow and build up gradually.

"You don't have to have any kind of stress test. You just start walking more, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, parking your car farther rather than closer to the store entry. Just begin by incorporating more movement in your normal life," says Siegel.

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Heart Rate Calculator

Ensure you're exercising hard enough to get a good workout, but not strain your heart.

While you are exercising, you should count between...

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Beats
PER
Seconds