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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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Lots of things affect whether you get heart disease, and you control many of them. Little things you do every day can make a difference. 1. Unwind and connect. Cut out as much stress as possible. Find ways to ease the stress you can't avoid. Exercise, meditation, and talking to people you trust are three ideas to start with.Work on your weight. Most Americans are overweight. Bringing your weight to a healthy level is a plus for your heart. 2. Upgrade your next meal. Favor fruits, vegetables,...

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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.

How Hard Should I Work?

When you're doing a cardio workout, it's moderate if you can talk but not sing. You're exercising vigorously if you can't say more than a few words without taking a breath, according to the CDC.

Ask your doctor if you should limit the intensity of your workouts. It's much better to start out taking it easier and work up to more challenging workouts, so you help prevent injury.

How Can I Stick With It?

  • Ban boredom. Pick a variety of activities that you like. Don't do the same thing over and over again.
  • Make playlists. Use music to keep you entertained.
  • Commit. You won't always feel like it, and you'll find all sorts of excuses not to do it. You'll need to make a decision ahead of time and ignore that impulse and exercise anyway.
  • Socialize. Working out is more fun if you have a friend with you.
  • Stay within your budget. Avoid buying expensive equipment or health club memberships unless you’re certain you’ll use them.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by James Beckerman, MD, FACC on August 20, 2014

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