Heart Health: Activity!

So we all know that being active is a great way to keep our bodies, minds, and hearts fit.

The Mayo Clinic and American Heart Association recommend having at least 30 minutes of activity most days of the week. As for the best type of activity for heart health, here’s what they have to say:

In general, you should do moderate exercise, such as walking at a brisk pace, for 30 to 60 minutes most days of the week. If you can’t get all of your exercise completed in one session, it’s fine to break up your physical activity into several 10- to 15-minute sessions. You’ll still get the same heart-health benefits.

There are other small changes you can make to increase your physical activity throughout the day. You can take the stairs instead of the elevator, walk or ride your bicycle to do errands, or try some sit-ups or push-ups while watching television.

I take that to mean that most of our activity needs to be what most of us consider “cardio”. Strength training is definitely important, but any type of cardio (running, swimming, biking, yoga, walking, hiking, etc) is really what gets your heart pumping! Any activity that gets your heart working helps strengthen the heart muscle, making it able to pump blood (and therefore, oxygen) through your body quicker and more efficiently, as well as increasing your stamina.

It’s just like doing bicep curls, but for your heart – the more you work it, the stronger it gets. You just won’t be able to see your heart definition in a tank top  :)

Here’s some really good information about activity from the AHA:

Physical Activity

AHA Scientific Position

Physical inactivity is a major risk factor for developing coronary artery disease. Coronary artery disease is characterized by deposits of fatty substances, cholesterol, calcium and other substances in the inner lining of arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle. It also contributes to other risk factors, including obesity, high blood pressure, high triglycerides, a low level of HDL (“good”) cholesterol and diabetes. Even moderately intense physical activity such as brisk walking is beneficial when done regularly for a total of 30 minutes or longer on most or all days.

Why is exercise or physical activity important?

Regular aerobic physical activity increases your fitness level and capacity for exercise. It also plays a role in both primary and secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease. Physical inactivity is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke and is linked to cardiovascular mortality.

Regular physical activity can help control blood lipid abnormalities, diabetes and obesity. Aerobic physical activity can also help reduce blood pressure.

The results of pooled studies show that people who modify their behavior and start regular physical activity after heart attack have better rates of survival and better quality of life. Healthy people — as well as many patients with cardiovascular disease — can improve their fitness and exercise performance with training.

How can physical activity help condition my body?

  • Some activities improve flexibility, some build muscular strength and some increase endurance.
  • Some forms of continuous activities involve using the large muscles in your arms or legs. These are called endurance or aerobic exercises. They help the heart by making it work more efficiently during exercise and at rest.
  • Brisk walking, jumping rope, jogging, bicycling, cross-country skiing and dancing are examples of aerobic activities that increase endurance.

How can I improve my physical fitness?

Programs designed to improve physical fitness take into account frequency (how often), intensity (how hard), and time (how long). They provide the best conditioning.

The FIT Formula:

F = frequency (days per week)

I = intensity (how hard, e.g., easy, moderate, vigorous) or percent of heart rate

T = time (amount for each session or day)

AHA Recommendation

For most healthy people:

For health benefits to the heart, lungs and circulation, perform any moderate-to-vigorous-intensity aerobic activity for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week at 50–85 percent of your maximum heart rate. You can accumulate 30 minutes in 10 or 15 minute sessions. What’s important is to include physical activity as part of a regular routine.

These activities are especially beneficial when done regularly:

  • brisk walking, hiking, stair-climbing, aerobic exercise
  • jogging, running, bicycling, rowing and swimming
  • activities such as soccer and basketball that include continuous running

The training effects of such activities are most apparent at exercise intensities that exceed 50 percent of a person’s exercise capacity (maximum heart rate). If you’re physically active regularly for longer periods or at greater intensity, you’re likely to benefit more. But don’t overdo it. Too much exercise can give you sore muscles and increase the risk of injury.

What about moderate-intensity activities?

Even moderate-intensity activities, when performed daily, can have some long-term health benefits. They help lower the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Here are some examples:

  • walking for pleasure, gardening and yard work
  • housework, dancing and prescribed home exercise
  • recreational activities such as tennis, racquetball, soccer, basketball and touch football

What risk factors are reduced?

Regular physical activity can also help reduce or eliminate some of these risk factors:

  • High blood pressure — Regular aerobic activities can lower blood pressure.
  • Cigarette smoking — Smokers who become physically active are more likely to cut down or stop smoking.
  • Diabetes — People at their ideal weight are less likely to develop diabetes. Physical activity may also decrease insulin requirements for people with diabetes.
  • Obesity and overweight — Regular physical activity can help people lose excess fat or stay at a reasonable weight.
  • High levels of triglycerides — Physical activity helps reduce triglyceride levels. High triglycerides are linked to developing coronary artery disease in some people.
  • Low levels of HDL — Low levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol (less than 40 mg/dL for men/less than 50 mg/dL for women) have been linked to a higher risk of coronary artery disease. Recent studies show that regular physical activity can significantly increase HDL cholesterol levels and thus reduce your risk.

What are other benefits of physical activity?

  • Physical activity builds healthy bones, muscles and joints, and reduces the risk of colon cancer. Millions of Americans suffer from illnesses that can be prevented or improved through regular physical activity.
  • Physical activity also helps psychologically. It reduces feelings of depression and anxiety, improves mood and promotes a sense of well-being.
  • The 1996 Surgeon General’s Report on Physical Activity also suggests that active people have a lower risk for stroke.

When should I consult my doctor?

Some people should consult their doctor before they start a vigorous exercise program. See your doctor or other healthcare provider if any of these apply to you:

  • You have a heart condition or you’ve had a stroke, and your doctor recommended only medically supervised physical activity.
  • During or right after you exercise, you often have pains or pressure in the left or mid-chest area, left neck, shoulder or arm.
  • You’ve developed chest pain or discomfort within the last month.
  • You tend to lose consciousness or fall due to dizziness.
  • You feel extremely breathless after mild exertion.
  • Your doctor recommended you take medicine for your blood pressure, a heart condition or a stroke.
  • Your doctor said you have bone, joint or muscle problems that could be made worse by the proposed physical activity.
  • You have a medical condition or other physical reason not mentioned here that might need special attention in an exercise program (for example, insulin-dependent diabetes).
  • You’re middle-aged or older, haven’t been physically active, and plan a relatively vigorous exercise program.

If none of these is true for you, you can start on a gradual, sensible program of increased activity tailored to your needs. If you feel any of the physical symptoms listed above when you start your exercise program, contact your doctor right away. If one or more of the above is true for you, an exercise-stress test may be used to help plan an exercise program.

Also, I had one person ask a question about heart rate and what is normal. In everything I found while researching this, a normal resting heart rate for adults is 60-100 bpm. According to Dr. Laskowski,

For an adult, a normal resting heart rate ranges from 60 to 100 beats per minute (bpm). For a well-trained athlete, a normal resting heart rate may be as low as 40 to 60 bpm. In healthy adults, a lower heart rate at rest generally implies more efficient heart function and better cardiovascular fitness.

To measure your heart rate at home, simply check your pulse. Place two fingers on the thumb side of your wrist, or place your index and third fingers on your neck to the side of your windpipe. When you feel your pulse, look at your watch and count the number of beats in 15 seconds. Multiply this number by 4 to get your heart rate per minute.

Keep in mind that many factors can influence heart rate, including:

  • Activity level
  • Fitness level
  • Air temperature
  • Body position (standing up or lying down, for example)
  • Emotions
  • Body size
  • Medication use

Although there’s a wide range of normal, an unusually high or low heart rate may indicate an underlying problem. Consult your doctor if your resting heart rate is consistently above 100 bpm (tachycardia) or below 60 bpm (bradycardia) — especially if you have other signs or symptoms, such as fainting, dizziness or shortness of breath.

The Mayo Clinic also has a great list on how to get started in an activity or workout routine if you’re looking to start something new!

While getting in 30-60 minutes of heart pumpin’ activity most days of the weeks is what we should shoot for, there are also tons of little things you can do during your day to up your overall activity. Tina actually had a post about this the other day – the concept of NEAT.

Basically, the more you move, the better :)

Here are a few things I do to move more even though they’re not really “workouts”:

– Walk to the downstairs bathroom at work

– Always take the stairs

– Park farther away from places

– Making more of an effort while cleaning

– Folding laundry while standing (sometimes)

What regular activity do you do? Do you have any NEAT things you already do? Are there new activities you want to try?


  1. good thing heart-pumping activity feels so good when it’s over!! the freshly-worked-out feeling is one of my favorites :-)

    my daily NEAT activity is the 4 flights of stairs at work every time i go to or come back from a visit!

  2. Hooray for staying active!! :-)

  3. hey! i think the thing about heart rates just vary so much from person to person. i run a LOT and i have to be in good cardio shape, but my heart rate when exercising can be anywhere from 150 – 190. it’s just a matter of whats normal for you. and as long as your blood pressure is OK.

    can you do a blood pressure post??? the numbers always confuse me.

    i’m loving the heart health series.

  4. Hi sweetie! wow what an informative post, love it!!

    My biggest NEAT I think it being a naturally “ants in her pants” type of girl. ;) We have our computer in our kitchen on a countertop type deskk that is hip level… so we don’t use a chair or stool. So that means when checking email, blogging ;) or whatever… I’m always standing up! Sometimes I sit on the counter top reading while eating my oatbran, I admit. :) XOXO

  5. Really interesting blog thanks.

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