How You Can Exercise to Help Prevent Heart Disease

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Regular exercise, especially aerobic exercise, is one of the best things you can do for yourself. It helps cut your chances of getting heart disease. It's good for your blood pressure, cholesterol, weight, energy level, and mood, too.

If you're not active now, check with your doctor before you start. They’ll let you know what you can do safely. Ask about things like push-ups and sit-ups. These involve straining muscles against other muscles or a heavy object. You may need to avoid them.

Make sure that lifting and pushing heavy objects, and chores like raking, shoveling, mowing, and scrubbing, aren't off-limits. Chores around the house can drain some people. Do only what you can do without getting tired.

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If you take any prescription medicines, ask them if you need to adjust them when you start exercising.

How Often and How Long Should I Exercise?

If you're not active now, gradually work up to an aerobic session of about 20 to 30 minutes, at least three or four times a week.

While the more exercise you can do, the better, any amount is good for you.

What Type of Exercise Should I Do?

Anything that raises your heart rate counts.

Think about what you need. For instance, if you're looking for something easy on your joints, consider walking and swimming.

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Don’t forget to think about what would be fun, too. Maybe you could do something you used to do or something you've always wanted to try.

What’s convenient for you is important, too. Do you need an at-home workout? Would you go to a gym if you joined? How about joining a recreational sports team, hiking group, or dance class? You're more likely to stick with it if you enjoy it.

Here are some tips to help you make exercise a regular part of your routine:

Ban boredom. Pick a variety of activities that you like. Don't do the same thing over and over.

Make playlists. Use music to keep you entertained.

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Commit. You won't always feel like it, and you'll find all sorts of excuses not to do it. You'll need to make a decision ahead of time and ignore that impulse and exercise anyway.

Socialize. Working out is more fun if you have a friend with you.

Stay within your budget. Don’t buy expensive equipment or health club memberships unless you know you’ll use them.

What to Do in Every Workout

Each exercise session should include a warm-up, conditioning phase, and a cool down.

Warm-up: Go easy for a few minutes as your body gets used to what you're asking it to do.

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Conditioning: This is the main part of your workout.

Cool down: You're transitioning out of your workout. Don’t sit, stand still, or lie down right after exercise, or you may feel dizzy or lightheaded or have heart palpitations (fluttering in your chest). The best cool-down is to ease up on the intensity of your activity.

Workout Tips

Pace yourself. Don't do too much too soon. Give your body time to rest between workouts.

Don't exercise outdoors when it's too cold, hot, or humid. High humidity may make you tired more quickly. Extreme temperatures can interfere with circulation, make breathing difficult, and cause chest pain. Indoor activities such as mall walking are better choices.

Stay hydrated. Drink water even before you feel thirsty, especially on hot days.

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Skip extremely hot and cold showers or sauna baths after exercise. These extreme temperatures make your heart work harder.

Resume slowly after a break. If your regular exercise gets interrupted for a few days (because you were sick, went on vacation, or had bad weather, for example), ease back into it. Start with shorter and less intense activity, and gradually build up until you're back to the level you were before.

How Hard Should I Work?

A cardio workout is moderate if you can talk but not sing. You're exercising vigorously if you can't say more than a few words without taking a breath.

Ask your doctor if you should limit the intensity of your exercise. It's much better to start out taking it easier and work up to more challenging workouts. That’ll help prevent injury.

What to Watch For

Don't exercise if you're not feeling well or have a fever. People with heart problems should wait until all symptoms disappear before you get back to your routine, unless your doctor gives other directions.

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Stop activity if you get a rapid or irregular heartbeat or have heart palpitations. Check your pulse after you've rested for 15 minutes. If it's still more than 100 beats per minute, call the doctor.

Being too tired or short of breath is also a signal to stop. Tell your doctor what happened, or schedule an appointment.

Does it hurt while exercising? Don't ignore it. Stop when you have pain anywhere in your body. You could injure your joints.

Stop and rest if you:

  • Feel weak
  • Are dizzy or lightheaded
  • Have unexplained weight gain or swelling -- call the doctor right away
  • Feel pressure or pain in your chest, neck, arm, jaw, or shoulder
  • Are concerned for any reason

Call the doctor if those feelings don't go away.

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