Exercise can lower your heart disease risk

If you have cardiovascular disease—or are at high-risk for developing it—one of the most important things you can do for yourself is to exercise.

Less than 60% of Americans are not regularly active and 25% report they are not active at all. Lack of knowledge about the benefits of exercise and perceived shortage of time are two of the many reasons why some choose not to exercise and, as a result, significantly increase their risk of cardiovascular disease.

Activity vs. exercise

Many people think that walking around the grocery store or shopping at the mall is "exercise." Because of this misconception, it is important for us to define the difference between activity and exercise. Activity is defined as the state of being active, and exercise is defined as activity that requires physical exertion especially when performed to develop or maintain fitness.

Benefits of regular physical activity


Exercise provides many general and cardiovascular health benefits.

General health benefits of exercise

  • Make daily activities easier
  • Decrease overall body fat
  • Increase energy levels
  • Promote relaxation and sleep
  • Help manage stress
  • Improve self image
  • Increase feelings of control
  • Decrease anxiety and depression
  • Increase release of endorphins, which may improve your mood
  • Strengthen muscles
  • Improve flexibility, balance and general coordination
  • Strengthen bones
  • Help prevent osteoporosis
  • Increase bone density and strength
  • Decrease chances of breaking bones
  • Improve appetite control and weight
  • Boost immune system
  • Promote the healing process
  • Strengthen ability to recover from illness
  • Increase resistance to illness

Cardiovascular benefits of aerobic activity

  • Prevent and manage cardiovascular disease
  • Control blood pressure
  • Prevent plaque build-up in the arteries
  • Decrease fats in the blood and body
  • Help control lipid levels
  • Improve circulation
  • Reduce blood clot formation
  • Manage angina and claudication
  • Improve breathing and oxygen use
  • Decrease shortness of breath
  • Deliver more oxygen to the heart and muscles
  • Strengthen the heart muscle

Activity guidelines

Start slowly, and gradually increase the frequency, duration and intensity of your workouts

Physical activity is important for everyone, and you do not have to be an athlete to reap the cardiovascular benefits of exercise. Your heart will receive the biggest benefit through aerobic exercises. Start slowly, and gradually increase the frequency, duration and intensity of your workouts. Although your physician may recommend different goals, guidelines call for working out for 30 to 60 minutes three to five times per week for cardiovascular health and four to six times per week for weight loss.

If you are unable to perform regular aerobic activity, you can still lower your risk of heart disease and stroke through lifestyle exercise. Moderate activities such as walking during breaks at work, taking the stairs instead of the elevators, gardening and housework can still be beneficial when performed on most or all days of the week.

Creating your exercise program

As you plan your exercise regimen, consider these components to maximize your workout:

  • Mode

    Type of exercise you choose to do:

    • Aerobic, such as walking or swimming
    • Resistance, such as lifting weights
    • Flexibility exercise, such as stretching or yoga
    • Lifestyle exercise, such as gardening or housework
  • Frequency

    How many days per week you exercise. It is recommended that you exercise three to five days per week.

  • Intensity

    How hard you need to exercise. The most ideal way to determine your exercise intensity is by using the Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale. The scale goes from 6-20, where 6 means "no exertion at all" and 20 means "maximal exertion." The optimal range is 11 "light" to 13 "somewhat hard."

  • Duration

    How long you should exercise. It is recommended that you exercise a total of 150 minutes per week.

  • Warm-up and cool-down

    Warming up and cooling down are vital parts of every exercise session.

    • Warming up is a gradual increase in intensity to prevent injury during exercise
    • Cooling down is a gradual decrease in intensity for slowing heart rate and breathing frequency to reduce the risk of dizziness and fainting


Determine your exercise intensity by using this scale

While exercising, rate your perception of exertion—i.e., how heavy and strenuous the exercise feels to you. The perception of exertion depends mainly on the strain and fatigue in your muscles and on your feeling of breathlessness or aches in the chest.

Use this scale from 6-20, where 6 means "no exertion at all" and 20 means "maximal exertion." The optimal range is 11 "light" to 13 "somewhat hard."

  • 9 corresponds to "very light" exercise. For a normal, healthy person it is like walking slowly at his or her own pace
  • 13 on the scale is "somewhat hard" exercise, but it still feels OK to continue
  • 17 "very hard" is very strenuous. A healthy person can still go on, but he or she really has to push him or herself. It feels very heavy and the person is very tired
  • 19 on the scale is an extremely strenuous exercise level. For most people this is the most strenuous exercise they have ever experienced

Try to appraise your feeling of exertion as honestly as possible, without thinking about what the actual physical load is. Don't underestimate it, but don't overestimate it either. It's your own feeling of effort and exertion that's important, not how it compares to other people's. What other people think is not important either. Look at the scale and the expressions and give a number.

Leap for Life®

Free program designed for anyone at risk of cardiovascular disease and their family­

Topics and open discussion may include:

  • Education on anatomy of the heart and how the cardiovascular system works
  • Overview of heart-healthy eating guidelines, label reading and eating plans
  • Guidelines for developing a regular exercise program
  • Advice and resources for stress management

Join us to hear from cardiac professionals about simple steps you can take to significantly improve the heart health of yourself or someone you love.

Find a class

Cardiac Rehabilitation Program

Customized program features monitored physical activity to help you return to daily life

Our cardiac rehabilitation program draws on a multidisciplinary team that includes cardiologists, internal medicine doctors, registered nurses, exercise specialists, registered dietitians and social workers in a carefully designed program that is tailored to your specific needs.

Offered in three phases, our program features monitored physical activity in which you gradually increase the intensity of your exercise, the efficiency of your heart and lungs, and the strength of your body's muscles while gaining the confidence you need to return to daily life.

Entrance into the cardiac rehabilitation program will require a physician referral. If you feel you could benefit from the program, you should discuss it with your physician and request a referral.

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