How Can Physical Activity Become a Way of Life?

Updated:Feb 8,2013
If you aren’t in the habit of being physically active, you’re probably being told you should start. That’s because regular physical activity reduces your risk of heart disease and stroke. It also helps you reduce or manage other risk factors — high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, excess body weight and diabetes.
But the benefits don’t stop there. You may look and feel better, become stronger and more flexible, have more energy, and reduce stress and tension.
How do I start?
  • Talk to your doctor about a physical activity plan that’s right for you if...
    • you’ve been inactive a long time or have medical problems,
    • you’re middle-aged or older and you’re planning a relatively vigorous exercise program.
  • Choose activities you enjoy. Pick a start date that fits your schedule and gives you enough time to begin your program.
  • Wear comfortable clothes and shoes.
  • Start slowly — don’t overdo it!
  • Try to exercise at the same time each day so it becomes a regular part of your lifestyle.
  • Drink water before, during and after each exercise session.
  • Ask a friend to start a program with you — use the buddy system!
  • Note the days you exercise and write down the distance or length of time of your workout and how you feel after each session. Aim for at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) of vigorous-intensity, aerobic exercise each week.
  • If you miss a day, plan a make-up day. Don’t double your exercise time during your next session.
What will keep me going?
  • Get your family into physical activity! It’s great to have a support system, and you’ll be getting them into an important health habit.
  • Join an exercise group, health club or YMCA.
  • Choose an activity you like and make sure it’s convenient for you. If you need good weather, have a back-up plan for bad days (e.g., when it rains, walk in the mall instead of the park).
  • Learn a new sport you think you might enjoy, or take lessons to improve at one you know.
  • Do a variety of activities. Take a brisk walk one day, a swim the next time. Then go for a bike ride on the weekend!
  • Make physical activity a routine so it becomes a habit.
  • If you stop for any length of time, don’t lose hope! Just get started again — slowly and work up to your old pace.
What else should I know?
  • Try not to compare yourself with others. Your goal should be personal health and fitness.
  • Think about whether you like to exercise alone or with other people, outside or inside, what time of day is best, and what kind of exercise you most enjoy doing.
  • If you feel like quitting, remind yourself of all the reasons you started. Also think about how far you’ve come!
  • Don’t push yourself too hard. You should be able to talk during exercise. Also, if it takes more than 10 minutes to recover from exercising, you’re working too hard.
How can I learn more?
  1. Talk to your doctor, nurse or other healthcare professionals. If you have heart disease or have had a stroke, members of your family also may be at higher risk. It’s very important for them to make changes now to lower their risk.
  2. Call 1-800-AHA-USA1 (1-800-242-8721), or visit to learn more about heart disease.
  3. For information on stroke, call 1-888-4-STROKE (1-888-478-7653) or visit us online at
We have many other fact sheets and educational booklets to help you make healthier choices to reduce your risk, manage disease or care for a loved one. Visit to learn more.

Knowledge is power, so Learn and Live!
Do you have questions or comments for the doctor or nurse?
Take a few minutes to write your questions for the next time you see your healthcare provider.
For example:
Should I take my pulse?
Can I exercise “too much”?
©2012, American Heart Association

Multi-language Fact Sheet Topics

Heart-related Conditions
What is Angina?
What is an Arrhythmia?
What Is Atrial Fibrillation?
How Can I Lower High Cholesterol?
What Do My Cholesterol Levels Mean?
What Are High Blood Cholesterol and Triglycerides?
What Is High Blood Pressure?
How Can I Reduce High Blood Pressure?
High Blood Pressure and Stroke
What Is Diabetes and How Can I Manage It?
How Can I Live With Heart Failure?
What Is Heart Failure?
What Is a Heart Attack?
How Will I Recover From My Heart Attack?
What Are the Warning Signs of Heart Attack?
What Are Heart Disease and Stroke?
What is Metabolic Syndrome?
What is Peripheral Vascular Disease?

Stroke, Recovery and Caregiving
Hemorrhagic Stroke
Ischemic Stroke
What Are the Warning Signs of Stroke?
Lifestyle Changes to Prevent Stroke
Stroke Diagnosis
Changes Caused by Stroke
Emotional Changes After Stroke
Feeling Tired After a Stroke
Stroke and Rehabilitation
Stroke Family Caregivers
How Should I Care for Myself as a Caregiver?

Treatment, Tests and Procedures
What is Cholesterol-Lowering Medicine?
What is High Blood Pressure Medicine?
What Are Anticoagulants and Antiplatelet Agents?
What Is an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator?
What Is a Pacemaker?
What Is Coronary Angioplasty?
What is a Stent?
What is Coronary Bypass Surgery?
What is a Coronary Angiogram?
How Can I Recover From Heart Surgery?
What is Carotid Endarterectomy?

Healthy Lifestyle and Risk Reduction
How Can I Manage My Weight?
How Can Physical Activity Become a Way of Life?
Why Should I Be Physically Active?
How Do I Follow a Healthy Diet?
Why Should I Limit Sodium?
How Do I Read "Nutrition Facts" Labels?
How Can I Quit Smoking?
How Can I Manage Stress?
How Can I Make My Lifestyle Healthier?
How Can I Monitor My Cholesterol, Blood Pressure and Weight?