22 Fast Facts About Exercise and Your Heart

Discover the truth behind common myths

You may think you know all there is to know about your heart and exercise. But myths abound about how much — and what kind of — physical activity you need. Here, Cardiac Rehabilitation Program Director Erik Van Iterson, PhD, shares 22 key facts about heart-healthy exercise:

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1. Physical activity is an important way to prevent heart disease – the nation’s 1 killer — and stroke, the nation’s No. 5 killer.

2. Do at least 2.5 hours of moderate intensity physical activity (think brisk walking), spread across the entire week, to improve your cardiovascular health.

3. Moderate-intensity activity gets your heart beating faster, causes you to break a sweat and makes you breathe harder. (Hint: You should be able to talk but not sing.)

4. You don’t have to do the activity all at once. Spread the time over the course of your day if needed — it all counts!

5. Try dividing your exercise into two or three mini-segments of 10 to 15 minutes per day — you will still experience benefits.

6. Doing more than 300 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week can provide extra health benefits.

7. Most people are safe doing activity that requires moderate effort.

8. If time is an issue, and you’re able to, do 75 minutes or more of vigorous activity (at least at a jogging pace) each week to improve your cardiovascular health. (That’s equal to 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity.)

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9. You’ll enjoy added health benefits by engaging in whole body muscle-strengthening physical activity for at least two days per week.

10. The heart-healthy benefits of physical activity are far greater than your chances of getting hurt.

11. All types of physical activity help your heart health. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, walk briskly around the mall, or take a dance class.

12. The simplest change you can make to improve your heart health is to replace sedentary behavior with lighter-intensity activities like walking.

13. People of all types, shapes, sizes and abilities can benefit from being physically active.

14. If you haven’t been active for a while, start at a comfortable pace. Gradually increase your exercise intensity and duration as your body adapts to regular activity. Choose activities that are appropriate for you right now.

15. Doing some physical activity is better for your heart than doing nothing. But the more physical activity you do, the more benefit you gain.

16. If you have heart disease, you should exercise just as much as someone who does not have heart disease. But understand the risks; some activities may not be appropriate for you right now.

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17. Talk with your doctor about the types and amounts of physical activity that are right for you if you have heart disease.

18. You are more likely to develop heart disease, have high blood pressure, have high blood cholesterol or have a stroke when you’re not regularly physically active.

19. You don’t need a stress test before starting an exercise program just because your cholesterol is high.

20. If you are eligible based on your medical history, enroll in cardiac rehabilitation. Completing this therapy can reduce the death rate from heart disease by 26 to 31 percent.

21. Exercise training, education and counseling are all part of cardiac rehabilitation, and can help improve your heart health.

22. To help optimize the safety and fitness benefits of exercise, use a heart rate monitor to ensure that you attain your heart rate ranges when exercising at home.

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