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Heart Disease Health Center

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How to Exercise to Help Prevent Heart Disease

Getting regular exercise, especially aerobic exercise, is one of the best things you can do for yourself. It helps you cut your odds of getting heart disease. It's good for your blood pressure, cholesterol, weight, energy level, and mood, too, to name just a few of the benefits.

If you're not exercising, check in with your doctor first. She will let you know what you can do safely. If you take any prescription medicines, ask your doctor if you need to adjust them when you take your medicines.

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What Is Atherosclerosis?

Atherosclerosis -- hardening and narrowing of the arteries -- gets a lot of bad press but with good reason. This progressive process silently and slowly blocks arteries, putting blood flow at risk. Atherosclerosis is the usual cause of heart attacks, strokes, and peripheral vascular disease -- what together are called "cardiovascular disease." Cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 killer in America, with more than 800,000 deaths in 2005. How does atherosclerosis develop? Who gets it, and...

Read the What Is Atherosclerosis? article > >

How Often and How Long Should I Exercise?

If you're not active now, you should gradually work up to an aerobic session lasting 20 to 30 minutes, at least three to four times a week.

The American Heart Association recommends that you exercise most days of the week. While the more exercise you can do the better, any amount is good for you.

What Type of Exercise Should I Do?

You have many options! Anything that makes your heart beat a bit faster counts.

Think about what you need -- for instance, if you're looking for something that's easy on your joints, consider walking and swimming. Also think about what would be fun, whether it's an activity you used to do or something you've always wanted to try.

Also, consider what's convenient for you. Do you need an at-home workout? Would you go to a gym if you joined it? How about joining a recreational sports team, hiking group, or dance class? You're more likely to stick with it if you enjoy it.

What to Do In Every Workout

Every exercise session should include a warm-up, conditioning phase, and a cooldown.

  • Warm-up. Take it easy for a few minutes as your body gets used to what you're asking it to do.
  • Conditioning. This is the main part of your workout.
  • Cool-down. You're transitioning out of your workout. Don’t sit, stand still, or lie down right after exercise, or you may feel dizzy or lightheaded or have heart palpitations (fluttering in your chest). The best cool-down is to ease up on the intensity of your activity.

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