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Heart Disease and Exercise for a Healthy Heart

A sedentary (inactive) lifestyle is one of the top risk factors for heart disease. Fortunately, it's a risk factor that you can do something about. Regular exercise, especially aerobic exercise, has many benefits. It can: 

  • Strengthen your heart and cardiovascular system
  • Improve your circulation and help your body use oxygen better
  • Improve your heart failure symptoms
  • Increase energy levels so you can do more activities without becoming tired or short of breath
  • Increase endurance
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Improve muscle tone and strength
  • Improve balance and joint flexibility
  • Strengthen bones
  • Help reduce body fat and help you reach a healthy weight
  • Help reduce stress, tension, anxiety, and depression
  • Boost self-image and self-esteem
  • Improve sleep
  • Make you feel more relaxed and rested
  • Make you look fit and feel healthy

How Do I Start Exercising?

Always check with your doctor first before starting an exercise program. Your doctor can help you find a program that matches your level of fitness and physical condition. Here are some questions to ask:

  • How much exercise can I do each day?
  • How often can I exercise each week?
  • What type of exercise should I do?
  • What type of activities should I avoid?
  • Should I take my medication(s) at a certain time around my exercise schedule?
  • Do I have to take my pulse while exercising?

What Type of Exercise Is Best?

Exercise can be divided into three basic types:

  • Stretching or the slow lengthening of the muscles; stretching the arms and legs before and after exercising helps prepare the muscles for activity and helps prevent injury and muscle strain. Regular stretching also increases your range of motion and flexibility.
  • Cardiovascular or aerobic is steady physical activity using large muscle groups. This type of exercise strengthens the heart and lungs and improves the body's ability to use oxygen. Aerobic exercise has the most benefits for your heart. Over time, aerobic exercise can help decrease your heart rate and blood pressure and improve your breathing (since your heart won't have to work as hard during exercise).
  • Strengthening exercises are repeated muscle contractions (tightening) until the muscle becomes tired. For people with heart failure, many strengthening exercises are not recommended. (See below)

What Are Examples of Aerobic Exercises?

Aerobic exercises include: walking, jogging, jumping rope, bicycling (stationary or outdoor), cross-country skiing, skating, rowing, and low-impact aerobics or water aerobics.

How Often Should I Exercise?

In general, to achieve maximum benefits, you should gradually work up to an aerobic session lasting 20 to 30 minutes, at least three to four times a week. Initially, exercising every other day will help you start a regular aerobic exercise schedule. The American Heart Association recommends working up to exercising on most days of the week. While the more exercise you can do the better, any amount of exercise is beneficial to your health.

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