How You Can Tell If You’re Exercising Effectively for Heart Health

Don’t let that New Year's resolution to get fit fall by the wayside

How You Can Tell If You're Exercising Effectively for Heart Health

Contributor: Leslie Cho, MD

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Every New Year’s, millions of Americans make a resolution to exercise. In January, they buy gym memberships, new treadmills and bicycles. By February, those resolutions are often distant memories.

As a person who would rather read a book than exercise, I can totally relate. But as a cardiologist, I know the tremendous amount of benefit that exercise can have.

Regular exercise can lower blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugars and weight. In addition, exercise lowers your risk of coronary artery disease, heart attacks, strokes and dying.

RELATED: 21 Fast Facts About Exercise and Your Heart

Effective exercising

It’s really discouraging that most Americans do not get regular exercise. Also, many who are exercising aren’t doing it effectively to lower their cardiovascular risk.

What most people want to know is how much and how intensely they should exercise to gain maximum benefit.

Here is what we know so far: You should get about 2.5 hours of moderate exercise per week. Moderate exercise means that your breathing quickens, but you aren’t panting for breath. Also, you’re sweating.

Another way to assess this is by measuring your heart rate. You can buy heart rate monitors these days for a relatively cheap price. You want to aim for about 50 percent to 70 percent of maximal predicted heart rate, or MPHR.

RELATED: Moderate Exercise May Be All Your Heart Needs

Measuring your heart rate

Your maximal predicted heart rate is determined by your age. The formula is 220 minus your age. So if you are 50 years old, then your MPHR is 170.

To determine 50 to 70 percent of MPHR, you have to multiply by 0.5 (50 percent of heart rate) to 0.7 (70 percent of heart rate). So if you’re 50, your heart rate should be between 85 and 119 beats per minute for moderate activity.

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Some people will find this too easy. If you do, you can raise your heart rate range between 70 and 85 percent of MPHR for more vigorous exercise. So if you’re 50 that would be around 119 to 144 beats per minute.

If you’re doing vigorous exercise, you need to exercise 75 minutes a week. For those who haven’t been exercising at all, it’s important to start slow. Often people will push themselves, then get injured and quit exercising all together.

RELATED: Study: Vigorous Exercise May Help Heart Failure

Find something you like to do

Also, it’s really important to find exercises you like to do. If you hate the treadmill, then please pick something else. The best exercise is the one you will continue to do without quitting.

Some people want to walk, others want to swim. It doesn’t matter as long as you do it and do it continuously at a moderate or vigorous pace.

Change up your exercise routine, too, so that you don’t get bored. As we get older it’s important to improve our strength and balance, in addition to doing aerobic exercise. Light weight training, yoga, tai chi and pilates are great ways to achieve these goals.

RELATED: 5 Best Tips to Get Started Doing Yoga

Make exercise a part of your life

It’s important that we make exercise a routine part of our lives. If it’s not routine, it will eventually fall away from your schedule, and exercise will be something you think about but don’t do.

Try to make exercise as easy and convenient as possible. You don’t have to go to a gym, buy a treadmill or spend a lot of money to exercise.

Also, try to exercise in spurts. If you can’t exercise 20 minutes at a time, try to exercise 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes at night. Try to exercise during lunch.

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Cardiac rehab can help heart patients get active

If you have heart disease – if you’ve had a heart attack, bypass surgery or stents put in – a cardiac rehabilitation phase 2 program should be mandatory.

Cardiac rehab is covered by most insurance and available to patients who have had a cardiac event. Cardiac rehabilitation phase 2 is a 12-week program, in which you exercise three times a week for one hour with an exercise physiologist under physician supervision in a hospital setting.

Cardiac rehab not only teaches you how to exercise and improve your functional status, it will teach you how to eat, handle stress and quit smoking. It’s a comprehensive program.

A good cardiac rehab program will assess your functional status before the start of the program and design an individualized program. This is done so your functional status can be improved throughout the 12-week program.

RELATED: Cardiac Rehab: An Investment You Can Make in You

Proven benefit

Patients in Cleveland Clinic’s cardiac rehab program have an average of 25 percent improvement in their functional status after finishing the program. Moreover, they lower their blood pressure, improve blood sugar and have dramatic improvements in their sense of well-being.

The great tragedy is that in the United States, only 14 to 35 percent of qualified patients ever go to cardiac rehab phase 2. If you had a cardiac event, please ask your doctor if you qualify for a cardiac rehabilitation phase 2 program.

Finally, it’s important to know that it’s never too late to start exercising. If you’ve never exercised, talk to your doctor before you embark on an exercise program. But remember: It’s never too late to start reaping benefits of regular exercise.

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This post is based on one of a series of articles produced by U.S. News & World Report in association with the medical experts at Cleveland Clinic.