When you push yourself physically and force your heart and lungs to work overtime, it makes your whole body stronger.
This is why regular exercise is a crucial component of heart health. The bouts of exertion make it easier for your heart to pump blood through your body, which can lower blood pressure and cholesterol, improve your circulation and lower your risk of heart disease.
How much exercise is needed to see these benefits? For most adults, it means 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise like brisk walking, or 75 minutes of high-intensity exercise like running, each week, in addition to two weekly sessions of strength training.
First, figure out what moderate-intensity and high-intensity mean for you, based on your age.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the target heart rate for moderate-intensity exercise should be between 64 and 76 percent of your maximum heart rate. High-intensity exercise should put you at a target heart rate between 77 and 93 percent of your maximum heart rate.
To find your maximum heart rate, subtract your age from 220. Then multiply that number by .64, .76, .77 or .93.
For example, a 49-year-old person would have a maximum heart rate of 171 beats per minute (bpm). Their target heart rate for moderate-intensity exercise would be between 109-129 bpm, and between 131-159 bpm.
During exercise, stop and find your pulse on your wrist. Count your pulse for 60 seconds (or for 30 seconds and multiply by 2) to find your heart rate.
Next, block out some time to exercise. If you aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week, that’s only about 21 minutes per day.
Consistency is key. Make exercise a habit.
Types of heart-healthy exercise
If you’re new to exercise, start with shorter periods of time (10-30 minutes) as many days as possible at a light to moderate pace until endurance begins to improve. Exercise such as walking, swimming or a stationary bike are great options for beginners.
Once you’re able to perform cardio training for 3-5 days per week, the duration can last anywhere from 30-60 minutes per bout and intensity can vary from workout to workout. It all depends on what your goal is and how much time you have each day to devote to your health.
Now that you’re ready to incorporate heart-health exercises into your daily routine, just remember, exercise of any kind is cumulative, so you can work out as little as 10 minutes at a time, 2-3 times throughout the day and it counts toward what is recommended.
Before you begin any new exercise plan, talk with your doctor about the best way to incorporate cardiovascular activity into your lifestyle. Not only can your doctor help establish a plan that safely and gradually increases your capacity for cardiovascular exercise, but he or she can also establish baselines for your blood pressure, resting heart rate and cholesterol that will allow you to track your success.