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The Baby Boomer Heart: Healing Fitness

When it comes to protecting your heart, fitness plays a key role.

How Exercise Helps Your Heart continued...

"Exercise is the single best prescription you can give yourself -- there is no prescription I can write that will promise a 40% reduction in events of death -- but regular exercise can do that," says Glassberg.

Cardiologist Stephen Siegel, MD, agrees: "If you want to age successfully, if you want to be one of those vigorous older folks that you look at and say 'wow' -- then exercise is going to get you there because it impacts not only your heart health, but your total health," he says. Siegel is an associate clinical professor at New York University Medical Center in New York City.

The Simple Way to Fitness

If you think you need a gym membership to get the heart-health benefits of exercise, nothing could be farther from the truth.

"The truth is that the greatest decrease in [heart disease] occurs for those who just take themselves out of the sedentary category with simple movement. In fact, just going from sedentary to moderately active gives you the greatest reduction in your risks," says Glassberg.

Indeed, Redberg says you don't have to do any type of formal routine to reap the benefits.

"You don't have to join a gym, buy a treadmill, or wear a heart monitor and count your heart beats," she says. "You just have to move your body with some regularity at a moderate intensity: a brisk walk, gardening, cycling, walking up steps. It all counts towards protecting your heart."

In a six-month study of sedentary baby boomers published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise researchers found that a lifestyle-based physical activity program worked just as well as a rigorous exercise program when it came to burning calories and increasing cardio respiratory fitness. People who were previously inactive showed the most benefits.

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.

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