How Much Exercise Is Best for the Heart?
A recent Cleveland Clinic survey reveals that most Americans donít know the recommended activity levels for those with and those without heart disease.
If you’re not sure how much exercise you need every week to help keep your heart healthy, you’re not alone. A Cleveland Clinic survey released earlier this year found that most Americans aren’t sure how much physical activity is recommended for heart health.
The survey also revealed that about two-thirds of adults in the U.S. aren’t aware that someone with heart disease needs to exercise just as much as someone without heart disease.
By the way, the recommended amount of time you should spend exercising is 150 minutes per week. That time should be spent in activity of at least moderate intensity, such as a brisk walk, a game of tennis, or continuous lap swimming in a pool.
“Heart disease kills about one in four Americans, but many of these deaths could be prevented by simple lifestyle changes like exercising and improving diet,” says Steve Nissen, MD, chairman of Cardiovascular Medicine at Cleveland Clinic. “Americans know exercise is important, but most don’t realize just how far a little exercise can go—potentially reducing the risk of dying from heart disease by as much as 40 to 50 percent. It’s worth making time for it.”
You may feel that your work obligations keep you from carving out the time to exercise. If so, you’re in good company. That was the top reason given (by 41 percent of respondents) for not exercising regularly. A little more than a third of those surveyed said they were too tired to exercise. And 28 percent of the respondents said family and friend obligations got in the way. Men tended to be less willing to let other priorities interfere with their workouts. But only a quarter of the men surveyed said nothing would keep them from sticking to their exercise routines.
While work, family and other responsibilities are obviously important, Dr. Nissen says it’s also vital to make regular exercise a priority, too. The health benefits are too crucial to skip.
“While heart patients should certainly consult with their doctor before beginning a new program, they should be more worried about the effects of not exercising on their heart than exercising,” Dr. Nissen says. “Nearly all people with heart disease, and without, should exercise. It improves blood flow, leads to lower blood pressure and will help you live†longer.”
Exercise and Weight Control
Working out may be most strongly associated with losing weight. In the survey, 51 percent of the people said that weight loss was their top priority for exercising. Only 32 percent said that heart health was their main motivation for working out.
But weight management and heart health go hand in hand. Being overweight or obese raises your risk of cardiovascular problems, including heart disease and high blood pressure. Unfortunately, many people don’t know how much exercise is needed to make a difference in your weight. The survey showed that less than a third of respondents knew that cutting 500 calories from your daily diet or burning an extra 500 calories per day will help you lose a pound a week. A pound equates to about 3,500 calories, so 500 fewer calories per day works out to a pound a week.
To burn 500 calories, a 160-pound person would need to walk at 3.5 mph for about 80 minutes or play racquetball for 46 minutes. In general, the heavier you are the less time it takes to burn the same number of calories doing the same activity as someone who weighs less.
Understand that any type of physical activity burns calories. Getting up and taking a five-minute walk every hour will make a difference. Even standing more and sitting less makes a difference. You might burn 30 or more calories more for every hour a day you stand instead of sit. It adds up.
While 30 minutes a day, most days of the week, is a good goal, recent research suggests that it’s important to be active throughout the day. That means less sitting down and more time spent on your feet, even if it’s doing household chores or walking around the house or office.
To cut 500 calories per day from your diet, you can simply swap your soda for an iced tea, have a salad instead of a sandwich (but watch the salad dressing), skip ice cream for dessert and snack on a few pistachios in the afternoon instead of chips or other processed foods with lots of empty†calories.
You can learn a lot about a heart-healthy diet, exercise and other lifestyle behaviors in a comprehensive cardiac rehabilitation program. Cardiac rehab is meant to provide each patient with an individualized program to help recover from heart surgery, a stent implant, a diagnosis of heart failure or any of several other cardiovascular conditions.
And while most people surveyed knew that cardiac rehab can cut the risk of heart disease mortality by half, less than a third of heart patients eligible for cardiac rehab actually complete the program.
There are many factors to explain that disconnect. But if you feel you would benefit from cardiac rehab, discuss it with your doctor.
If You’re Still Unsure
The best place to start for answers to your heart health questions is your doctor. If you’ve been sedentary and want to get up to that 150-minutes-per-week target, talk with your doctor about any health concerns you should know about first.
You’ll probably be advised to start off slowly. Be realistic about your fitness level. If 30 minutes a day seems like a lot, start with a goal of 10 minutes a day and work your way up.
It’s better to move a little than not at all. But the more you can move, the better it is for your heart and the rest of you, too.