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Keep Active

Accumulate at least 30 minutes of moderate activity each day. To best help your heart, exercise continuously for 20-45 minutes, three to five days a week.

Why Should I Exercise?

Keeping your body moving lowers the risk of heart disease. Regular activity can help to lower blood pressure, improve cholesterol levels and maintain a healthy weight.

What's the Difference Between "Accumulating 30 Minutes of Activity" & "Exercising Continuously for 20-40 Minutes?"

It is recommended that all Americans accumulate at least 30 minutes of moderate activity on most, if not all, days of the week. Moderate activity is anything that gets you up and moving, such as walking, gardening or dancing. The important point is to choose an activity that you enjoy and do it regularly. The duration of the activity can be broken up into several shorter sessions: walk the dog for 10 minutes in the morning, garden 10 minutes in the afternoon and take a walk for 10 minutes after dinner.

While a program of moderate activity can bring many health benefits, strenuous exercise, called aerobic exercise, can lead to much greater improvements in heart health. Aerobic exercise is any activity that increases your heart rate and breathing rate. Examples include power walking, cycling, tennis, running, basketball, swimming and soccer. For the best heart benefits, aerobic exercise should be done continuously for 20-45 minutes, three to five days per week. Do some light activity before the exercise to warm up the muscles, tendons and joints. After exercise, walk slowly for a few minutes to allow your heart rate to return to normal.

Are There Also Advantages to Strength Training & Stretching Exercises?

Strength training is an important part of an exercise program. Strength training strengthens both muscles and bones, and helps joints work more smoothly. In addition, increasing the amount of muscle you have can help with weight loss by increasing your metabolic rate. You can use different types of equipment, such as light dumbbells, free weights or machines at health clubs. Exercises such as push-ups or curl-ups, which use your body's own weight, also strengthen muscles.

To lower the risk of muscle and joint injuries, stretching should be part of any exercise program. Do your stretching after exercising, after your muscles have been warmed up. Stretching cold muscles often leads to injuries. Hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds. If a stretch is painful, ease up until just some tension is felt in the muscle.

I Have Bad Knees & a Bad Back. Are There Any Exercises That I Can Do?

People with medical problems can do many exercises safely. Bicycling and swimming are great choices for people with joint problems. There also are exercises that can be done in a chair. Many senior centers hold special "chair aerobics" classes and there are several chair aerobic videos available.

What Can I Do?

  • Get an OK from your doctor before starting any new exercise program.
  • Find a friend who is interested in activity and plan to attend a fitness class or go for a walk three to four times a week.
  • Park several blocks from work or the store to add extra minutes of walking to your daily routine.
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator when possible. Walk your dog daily.
  • Join a fitness group – at the senior center, cardiac rehabilitation program, local pool, mall walking program, YMCA, karate or fitness center.
  • Try square dancing, line dancing or ballroom dancing.

For more information, see Exercise: A Guide from the National Institute on Aging, available free from National Institute on Aging.