Making regular physical activity part of your lifestyle is one of the most effective ways to improve your heart health. Physical activity can improve heart health by reducing high blood pressure (hypertension), improving cholesterol levels, decreasing the risk of stroke, controlling weight and obesity, helping to manage type 2 diabetes, and limiting metabolic syndrome. Even for people with coronary artery disease (CAD), physical activity can result in a healthier and longer life. By learning to be more physically active, you’re embracing your chance for a fresh start and taking control of your lifestyle—and, therefore, your health!
Every single step helps. After getting your doctor’s approval to be more physically active, it’s usually best to start by moving more consistently than before but not more than you can. Over time, the more you can do, the more you will benefit.
Speak with your doctor
You should always speak with your doctor before you start, change, or stop any part of your healthcare plan, including physical activity or exercise. Reading health and exercise information online may be helpful, but it can’t replace the professional diagnosis and treatment you might need from a qualified healthcare provider.
Although physical activity has many health benefits, it’s not without risks, including musculoskeletal injury, arrhythmia, heart attack, and, very rarely, sudden cardiac death. However, in most cases, the benefits of physical activity outweigh the risks. People with heart disease who exercise are overall less likely to have a heart attack than those people with heart disease who don’t exercise.
Before making any changes to your physical activity routine, your doctor should assess your current health status and inform you of any precautions you should take.
Your doctor may discuss the following with you:
- Especially if you have a history of heart disease, your doctor may want you to have a stress test before starting physical activity. A stress test monitors and records your heart’s electrical activity during exercise to determine the effects of exercise on the rate and rhythm of your heart.
- You may have conditions preventing you from lifting or pushing heavy objects, such as lifting weights, shoveling, raking, mowing, and scrubbing. Your doctor can advise you of any limitations you have during physical activity.
- Your doctor can also help you decide which exercises are safe and may refer you to other qualified health professionals (for example, a physical therapist or an exercise physiologist) for guidance.
Starting physical activity
Try these basic steps to work toward reducing sedentary behaviors and getting more physical activity and exercise:
- Start by reducing sedentary behaviors – Anything that requires you to sit still for a prolonged period is sedentary behavior, including watching television, playing video games, using the computer, or reading. Cutting back on these sedentary activities will almost certainly make you move your body more throughout the day, which helps you meet the minimum physical activity needed for heart health.
- Plan to incorporate physical activity into your daily routine – Planning physical activity helps you ensure you don’t put it off as the day progresses. Any activity, like housework or yard work, counts as a physical activity if it raises your heart rate and lasts 10 minutes at a time. But even if you move more than you usually have done in the past, you are making progress toward being more physically active.
- Plan to add structured exercise that will vary your body movements – Expanding your physical activity to include different types of exercise, such as hiking, walking, yoga, golf, tennis, etc., can offer you variety. This helps you enjoy physical activity and keep your body challenged to see continual progress toward your physical fitness goals.
The following links for more information on physical activity, exercise, and your heart:
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – Physical Activity
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) – Obesity, Nutrition, and Physical Activity
- The American Heart Association (AHA) – Fitness
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) – Physical Activity
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) – Million Hearts Physical Activity