What's the Link Between Physical Activity and Health?

Even with risk factors for heart disease such as high blood pressure, diabetes or high cholesterol, people who enjoy regular physical activity have lower death rates than people who have no risk factors but who aren't physically active. What's more, people with heart disease who are physically fit live longer and have fewer heart attacks than heart patients who aren't physically fit. The facts are clear: Regular physical activity benefits people who have heart disease as well as those who don't.

A regular physical activity program helps:

Ask your doctor when you can begin a physical activity program. Your doctor can help you find a program suited to your needs and physical condition and may refer you to a formal cardiac rehabilitation program to help you learn to be active safely. You may also need an exercise stress test before you become active again.

Your doctor can tell you what symptoms to watch for during physical activity. If you have any of these symptoms, be sure to follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

What type of physical activity is best?

Any type of physical activity is good if it makes your muscles work more than usual. The heart is a muscle and benefits from a workout just like other muscles in your body.

Physical Activity for Your Heart

Physical activities that move the legs and arms are especially good for the heart. Such activities include brisk walking, running, swimming, bicycling and dancing. They involve steady, rhythmic movement of the legs and arms, and are called "aerobic" exercises. Regular aerobic exercise conditions the heart to pump blood to the whole body. 

If you've been diagnosed with high blood pressure or high cholesterol, you should do moderate to vigorous aerobic physical activity for at least 40 minutes 3 to 4 times a week. A good guideline: Work hard enough to breathe harder but still be able to carry on a conversation.

Physical Activity for Your Other Muscles

Stretching and strengthening activities keep muscles in good working order. Muscles lose strength and flexibility as you get older. Common tasks become more difficult, such as bending over to tie shoes, opening a jar, lifting a bag of groceries or even getting out of a chair. When your muscles aren't in good shape, you're more likely to lose your balance and fall. Strengthening exercises can also help boost your metabolism so you get more benefit out of your aerobic activities and lose weight faster.

Healthy adults generally do not need to consult a health-care provider before becoming physically active. However, if you have a chronic condition, your doctor or healthcare provider should be able to help you plan an appropriate physical activity program. Your doctor can help you find a program suited to your needs and physical condition and may refer you to a formal cardiac rehabilitation program to help you learn to be active safely. You may also need an exercise stress test before you become active again.

Your doctor can tell you what symptoms to watch for during physical activity. If you have any of these symptoms, be sure to follow your healthcare professional's instructions.