How Can Physical Activity Become a Way of Life?

Updated:Dec 4,2015
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 cholesterol, excess 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?
  • Start slowly — don't overdo it!
  • Choose activities you enjoy. Pick a start date that fits your schedule and gives you enough time to begin your program. Walking is a great way to get started!
  • Wear comfortable clothes and shoes.
  • 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.
  • Use the buddy system! Ask a friend to start a program with you.
  • 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 of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity, aerobic exercise each week. If you have high blood pressure or high cholesterol, aim for at least 40 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity at least 3 to 4 days a week.
  • If you miss a day, plan a make-up day.
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 local community center.
  • 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 — 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. 
How can I learn more?
  1. Call 1-800-AHA-USA1 (1-800-242-8721), or visit to learn more about heart disease and stroke.
  2. Sign up to get Heart Insight, a free magazine for heart patients and their families, at
  3. Connect with others sharing similar journeys with heart disease and stroke by joining our Support Network at
We have many other fact sheets to help you make healthier choices to reduce your risk, manage disease or care for a loved one. Visit to learn more.

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:
What kind of shoes should I wear to prevent injury?
Can I exercise “too much”?
©2015, American Heart Association

Multi-language Fact Sheet Topics

Heart-related Conditions
What is Angina?
What is an Arrhythmia?
What Is Atrial Fibrillation?
What Do My Cholesterol Levels Mean?
How Can I Improve My Cholesterol?
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 Artery Disease?

Stroke, Recovery and Caregiving
Hemorrhagic Stroke
Ischemic Stroke
Stroke, TIA and Warning Signs
What Are the Warning Signs of Stroke?
Stroke Risk Factors
Lifestyle Changes to Prevent Stroke
Stroke Diagnosis
Complications After Stroke
Changes Caused by Stroke
Emotional Changes After Stroke
Feeling Tired After a Stroke
Stroke and Aphasia
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?
How Do I Manage My Medicines?
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?
How Can I Cook Healthfully?
Why Should I Limit Sodium?
How Do I Understand "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?