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Do You Know How Much Exercise You Really Need?

Survey explores people's understanding of heart health

Do You Know How Much Exercise You Really Need?

By: Delos M. Cosgrove, MD

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How much exercise is best for your heart health? If you’re stumped, don’t feel bad. Just 20 percent of Americans were able to answer this question correctly in a recent national survey.

Exercise is one of the keys to preventing heart disease, the No. 1 killer of both men and women in the United States.

Yet most Americans don’t know that 2.5 hours a week — or an average of a half hour, five days a week — of moderate aerobic exercise is what doctors recommend for a healthy heart.

The survey, which was conducted by Cleveland Clinic in recognition of American Heart Month, also showed that 40 percent of Americans are exercising less than that recommended amount.

It revealed important misconceptions about how many calories to burn, who should undergo stress tests, and whether those with heart conditions should exercise.

RELATED: Love Your Heart: Tips for Heart-Healthy Living

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Reduce your risk for disease

Considering that heart disease kills about 1 in 4 Americans, these details are not trivial.  If Americans can learn how — and how much — to exercise, we can greatly reduce cardiovascular disease by controlling high blood pressure, improving cholesterol levels, regulating weight and body fat, and, of course, strengthening the heart muscle.

Yet, in our survey, only 32 percent of Americans say they exercise to benefit their hearts. Instead, weight is the biggest motivating factor for those who exercise weekly.

There’s nothing wrong with that; anything that motivates a person to workout is positive, because there are always barriers that make exercise difficult, as survey respondents pointed out.

Most commonly, people cited work obligations (41 percent) as the biggest deterrent, followed by fatigue (37 percent) and obligations with family and friends (28 percent).

Other survey findings include people don’t realize:

  • How much they need to burn to lose weight. Despite exercising for weight control, only 31 percent of those surveyed know they need to burn or cut out 500 calories from their diet to lose one pound a week.
  • How much they need to exercise if they have heart disease. Only 33 percent of Americans know that someone with heart disease needs to exercise the same amount as someone without heart disease.
  • Whether they need a stress test to safely exercise. While it’s true that those with heart disease should talk to their doctor about starting an exercise program, most Americans don’t understand which patients actually need stress tests. More than 80 percent of those surveyed incorrectly thought that someone with high cholesterol needs an exercise stress test before starting an exercise program.

RELATED: 7 Worst Heart Health Mistakes — and How You Can Avoid Them

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Beyond heart benefits

The telephone survey of 1,009 adults (487 men, 522 women) gathered insights into Americans’ perceptions of heart disease and exercise, as part of Cleveland Clinic’s “Love your Heart” consumer education campaign in celebration of American Heart Month.

Beyond the heart benefits, exercise has been proven to help in all facets of our health, improving overall strength, stamina, balance, flexibility, general well-being and bone and joint health.

This time of year, as New Year’s resolutions begin to fizzle out, keep this in mind for extra motivation: exercise has the potential to reduce the risk of heart-related death by as much as 40 to 50 percent.

Remind yourself of that next time you think about skipping exercise for an evening on the couch.

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