In every issue of WebMD the Magazine, we ask our experts to answer readers' questions about a wide range of topics. In our September 2011 issue, we gave a reader's question about preventing heart disease to James Beckerman, MD, WebMD's heart health expert.
Q : Heart disease runs in my family. What can I really do now to help prevent it?
A : Cut out these five things to greatly reduce your risk:
Smoking (or hanging around with smokers). Smoking is the most dangerous -- yet most reversible...
Yes, as long as you stick to what your doctor says you can do. "Don't fear exercise, as it's one of the best things you can do for your heart," says cardiologist James Beckerman, MD.
You want to make sure you do it wisely and don't tax your heart beyond its limits. So talk to your doctor before you start an exercise program, and ask if there are specific things you should avoid.
What type of exercise should I do?
Once you get the OK from your doctor, focus on things like walking, bicycling, or swimming, which will help your heart become stronger and more efficient, says cardiologist Merle Myerson, MD.
How much and how often should I exercise?
The American Heart Association recommends getting 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of harder exercise (or a combination of the two) each week.
Start slowly. Do just a few minutes at a time, and gradually work up to at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity every day for 5 or more days a week. "Moderate" means you're not gasping for breath while you exercise, but you're not able to talk in full sentences either.
Or set a daily goal to log at least 22 minutes of physical activity. "You'll get the biggest bang for your buck in that time frame," says cardiologist Bradley Bale, MD.
Better yet, you don't have to exercise all at once. If you want to split your 22-minute daily minimum into two 11-minute brisk walks or even three or four, do what fits best into your schedule.
What counts as exercise?
Something structured, like brisk walking, Zumba, or swimming, is best, because it gives you a chance to work a little harder and improve your fitness a little more each day. But it helps to move your body in other ways, too.
"Any physical activity is better than none. So squeeze more movement into your day whenever you can," Myerson says. For instance, change "sitting" meetings into "walking" ones. Or spend more time gardening.