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Exercise and the Heart

Health Benefits of Exercise

If Americans exercised more, there would be less heart disease and type 2 diabetes. That's something Dr. Ernest Gervino sees played out every day.

"About 90 percent of the people I see after they've had a heart event were not physically active on a regular basis," says Dr. Gervino, Director of the Clinical Physiology Labs at The CardioVascular Institute at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. "If you're looking for a single variable to protect the heart other than diet--exercise is a key component."

Physical inactivity is a major risk factor for developing coronary artery disease.

Studies have shown regular physical activity with a prudent diet can help:

  • Control blood lipids
    • Raises the good (HDL) cholesterol
    • Lowers the bad (LDL) cholesterol
    • Lowers triglycerides
  • Reduce risk of type 2 diabetes
  • Lower and maintain body weight
  • Reduce high blood pressure
  • Reduce risk of heart disease

Guidelines on Physical Activity

According to the American Heart Association/American College of Sports Medicine guidelines on physical activity, all healthy adults ages 18-65 should get at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity activity five days per week.

New research shows you can break that 30 minutes up into smaller pieces of 10 - 15 minute mini-workouts a few times a day.

"It's not all or nothing," notes Dr. Gervino. "It's cumulative. So take the stairs when possible, park your car further away and walk to the activity. It all adds up."

The activities don't have to be all structured. Swimming, cycling, jogging and skiing are great, but you can also mix in some gardening, housework, a brisk walk or dancing.

Tips for Exercise Success

Here are some tips for exercise success from the American Heart Association:

  • If you've been sedentary for a long time, are overweight, have a high risk of coronary heart disease or some other chronic health problem, see your doctor for a medical evaluation before beginning a physical activity program.
  • Choose activities that are fun, not exhausting. Add variety. Develop a repertoire of several activities that you can enjoy. That way, exercise will never seem boring or routine.
  • Wear comfortable, properly-fitted footwear and comfortable, loose-fitting clothing appropriate for the weather and the activity.
  • Find a convenient time and place to do activities. Try to make it a habit, but be flexible. If you miss an exercise opportunity, work activity into your day another way.
  • Use music to keep you entertained.
  • Surround yourself with supportive people. Decide what kind of support you need. Do you want them to remind you to exercise? Ask about your progress? Participate with you regularly or occasionally? Allow you time to exercise by yourself? Go with you to a special event, such as a 10K walk/run? Be understanding when you get up early to exercise? Spend time with the children while you exercise? Try not to ask you to change your exercise routine? Share your activity time with others. Make a date with a family member, friend or co-worker. Be an active role model for your children.
  • Don't overdo it. Do low- to moderate-level activities, especially at first. You can slowly increase the duration and intensity of your activities as you become more fit. Over time, work up to exercising on most days of the week for 30-60 minutes.
  • Keep a record of your activities. Reward yourself at special milestones. Nothing motivates like success!

Physical Activity at Home

It's convenient, comfortable and safe to work out at home. It allows your children to see you being active, which sets a good example for them. You can combine exercise with other activities, such as watching TV. If you buy exercise equipment, it's a one-time expense and other family members can use it. It's easy to have short bouts of activity several times a day. Try these tips:

  • Do housework yourself instead of hiring someone else to do it.
  • Work in the garden or mow the grass. Using a riding mower doesn't count! Rake leaves, prune, dig and pick up trash.
  • Go out for a short walk before breakfast, after dinner or both! Start with 5-10 minutes and work up to 30 minutes.
  • Walk or bike to the corner store instead of driving.
  • When walking, pick up the pace from leisurely to brisk. Choose a hilly route. When watching TV, sit up instead of lying on the sofa. Better yet, spend a few minutes pedaling on your stationary bicycle while watching TV. Throw away your video remote control. Instead of asking someone to bring you a drink, get up off the couch and get it yourself.
  • Stand up while talking on the telephone.
  • Walk the dog.
  • Park farther away at the shopping mall and walk the extra distance. Wear your walking shoes and sneak in an extra lap or two around the mall.
  • Stretch to reach items in high places and squat or bend to look at items at floor level.
  • Keep exercise equipment repaired and use it!

Physical Activity Through Recreation

Play and recreation are important for good health. Look for opportunities such as these to be active and have fun at the same time:

  • Plan family outings and vacations that include physical activity (hiking, backpacking, swimming, etc.)
  • See the sights in new cities by walking, jogging or bicycling.
  • Make a date with a friend to enjoy your favorite physical activities. Do them regularly.
  • Play your favorite music while exercising - something that motivates you.
  • Dance with someone or by yourself. Take dancing lessons. Hit the dance floor on fast numbers instead of slow ones.
  • Join a recreational club that emphasizes physical activity.
  • At the beach, sit and watch the waves instead of lying flat. Better yet, get up and walk, run or fly a kite.
  • When golfing, walk instead of using a cart.
  • Play singles tennis or racquetball instead of doubles.
  • At a picnic, join in on badminton instead of croquet.
  • At the lake, rent a rowboat instead of a canoe.

Above content provided by The American Heart Association in partnership with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.

Contact Information

CardioVascular Institute at
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
330 Brookline Avenue
Boston, MA 02215
888-99-MYCVI
617-632-9777

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