Answering the Exercise Question
Exercise. Simple, right? Easy to implement.
Well, maybe not so simple. Myths, old wives' tales and conflicting current research often make the "how" and "how long" of exercise confusing. I hope to clear this up for you and motivate you to chart a clear path to exercise that will make you feel better and make your heart – and the rest of your body – healthy!
Other than quitting smoking, no single thing you can do has such broad health benefits. Exercise also reduces cardiovascular risks for women even more than for men.
If you exercise regularly, you will
- Lose weight
- Lower your blood pressure
- Lower your bad cholesterol
- Increase your good cholesterol
- Lower your risk of heart attack
- Lower your risk of developing diabetes
- Lower your risk of stroke
- Lower your risk of depression
- Lower your risk of heart disease
- Live longer.
So, unless your doctor has specifically told you not to be physically active, you should exercise. People at any age or fitness level can benefit from some type of exercise. If you are unsure whether you should exercise, talk your doctor.
How to Exercise
Walking, jogging, swimming, dancing and cycling are the kinds of exercise that benefit your heart. Also called "aerobic exercise" or "cardiovascular exercise," this is any exercise that raises your heart rate and keeps it elevated for 30 minutes or more.
Anaerobic exercises, such as strength-building and flexibility training, have no cardiovascular benefit. However, they do strengthen the muscles and bones, and when coupled with aerobic exercise, can benefit the entire body.
When performing aerobic exercise, a moderate pace is just as effective as an intense one. You have obtained a moderate level of aerobic exercise when you can still talk while exercising, but you start to sweat.
How Much to Exercise
150 minutes per week in 30-minute intervals is the minimum amount of cardiovascular exercise you need to benefit your heart. This allows you to be active five days a week with two days of rest. I recommend being active 30 minutes a day for 30 days to establish the habit of exercising on a regular basis. If you can do more, that’s even better.
So you want to increase your physical activity. Now what? The hardest part about starting a new exercise routine is starting. Here are some easy ways to get started.
- Be realistic. Weight loss and an increase in stamina take time. Don’t expect to be running a marathon and losing a dress size in your first week
- Be intentional. Set aside specific times to be physically active. Plan your physical activities in advance so you know what you’re going to do, when, where, and with whom.
- Set goals. Start out slow and set a realistic short-term goal, like walking 10 minutes every day for the first week and taking the stairs. To increase your likelihood of staying with the routine long term, set a long-term goal as well, such as walking for 30 minutes at least 5 days a week by the end of the first month.
- Round up support. Studies show that women who involve friends and family in lifestyle changes are more likely to stick to them. Have friends participate in physical activity with you, or ask your partner to hold you accountable for completing your workout schedule. Having a support system around you will help you make it through those days you just don’t feel like getting off the couch.
For more detailed information about exercise and the heart, visit: Exercise.
Until next time!
Stephanie Coulter, MD
We are saving hearts and trees. The Women's Heart Health E-News is sent via e-mail and posted online. Sign up using the form on this page. Read previous issues in archives.
Visit the Center for Women's Heart & Vascular Health at www.texasheart.org/women.