Life's Simple 7 - Get Active

Updated:Feb 20,2018

infographic thumbnail No matter what your weight, staying active helps keep heart healthy.

Having trouble finding time to exercise while juggling a busy schedule of work, family, friends and other activities?

You’re not alone. An estimated 50 percent of Americans don’t get the recommended at least 150 minutes a week of vigorous to moderate physical activity. And 80 percent don't get the recommended 150 minutes of aerobic activity weekly and twice weekly strengthening activities.

Getting physically active is one of what the American Heart Association calls Life’s Simple 7® – key health factors and behaviors that keep your heart healthy, lower your risks of heart disease and stroke, and improve your quality of life.

“Our bodies were designed to be physically active, and they don’t do well with long-term exposure to sedentary living,” said Russell Pate, Ph.D., an exercise physiologist and professor with the Arnold School of Public Health. “Lack of physical activity is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease.”

Educate Yourself

It’s not that we don’t know we should exercise, it’s just that few people seems to recognize just how important regular exercise is to your long-term health, Dr. Pate said.

 “Except for tobacco use, the number of premature deaths due to lack of physical activity is higher than almost all other chronic disease risk factors, including obesity and overweight, dietary concerns, hypertension (high blood pressure) and high cholesterol,” Dr. Pate said.

The first step to getting active is to consider how much exercise you’re getting. For adults, the recommendation is at least 150 minutes each week, or about 30 minutes a day most days of the week. On average, kids get only about half the recommended at least 300 minutes of exercise each week, Dr. Pate said. Use this printable activity tracker to gauge the amount of exercise you’re currently getting. This can help you identify possible areas of improvement; places throughout your day or week that you could fit in 10 minutes more here or 30 minutes more there.

Exercise can be anything that gets you moving and gets your heart rate up.

Your target heart rate for exercise changes as you age and depending on your physical fitness level.

Important Note: A few high blood pressure medications lower the maximum heart rate and thus the target zone rate. If you're taking such medicine, call your physician to find out if you need to use a lower target heart rate.

Another way to gauge your exertion level is whether you can carry on a conversation. If chatting while walking is easy, you may need to pick up the pace. If you’re gasping for breath, you may need to dial it back.

Unless you have a medical history that would make exercise risky, getting a healthcare provider’s approval before starting a moderate exercise routine isn’t necessary, Dr. Pate said.

Take Action

Getting active doesn’t mean you have to sign up for the next marathon. Brisk walking is enough.

The best exercise is different for everyone. “Choose an activity you like,” Dr. Pate said.

Setting and convenience are key considerations, Dr. Pate said. If you like social settings, choose an activity you can do with friends or family. If you need some time to yourself, a solitary activity might work better. 

“We’re very driven by social reinforcement,” Dr. Pate said. “In a family environment, if the spouse or parents are supportive, that’s an enormous facilitator.”

Whatever you choose, make sure it’s easily accessible.

Planning your week with exercise in mind is also important. Dr. Pate said people who regularly exercise tend to log it into their calendar and treat it just like they would an important meeting, then work other activities around that schedule.

Getting active for 30 minutes most days is ideal, but if you’re having trouble finding a block of time, try splitting it up into three 10-minute or two 15-minute segments. Or, if workdays are tough, try getting longer blocks of exercise on days off or when you have a lighter schedule.

Look for ways to sneak exercise into your daily life. Make a habit of parking farther away when doing errands, and choose the stairs instead of an elevator.

To help kids get more exercise, try walking or biking to school, Dr. Pate said.

Before long, 150 minutes of physical activity each week will become routine.

“This really is attainable,” Dr. Pate said.

Last reviewed 2/2014