HEALTH BENEFITS OF EXERCISE
How exercise can help your heart
Did you know that physically inactive people are twice as likely to develop coronary
heart disease as regularly active people? Here is some valuable information on physical
activity and cardiovascular health from the American Heart Association.
If I exercise, will I prevent heart disease?
Physical inactivity, along with cigarette smoking, high blood pressure and high blood
cholesterol, is one of the major modifiable risk factors for heart attack. There is no
guarantee that you won't get heart disease, but you'll reduce your chance of heart
disease if you avoid the risk factors.
I have been inactive for years. Shouldn’t I see a doctor before I start exercising?
Older adults who are inactive and at high risk for heart disease (or who already have a
medical condition) should seek medical advice before starting or significantly increasing
their physical activity. Most healthy people of any age safely can engage in moderate
levels of physical activity (e.g., moderate walking, gardening, yard work) without
consulting a doctor first.
How much physical activity is enough?
If you're inactive, doing anything is better than nothing! Studies show that people
who have a low fitness level are much more likely to die early than people who have
achieved even a moderate level of fitness. If you want to exceed a moderate level of
fitness, you need to exercise for 30 to 60 minutes, on most days of the week, at 50 to
80 percent of your maximum capacity.
Is exercise safe?
The potential health benefits of exercise greatly outweigh the risk, although there is a
very slight increased risk of death due to heart attack during vigorous exercise. Consult
your doctor first if you are an older adult, have any concerns, have been sedentary, are
overweight or have a medical condition.
Do I need to do vigorous exercise?
No, it is possible to lower your health risks doing moderate-level activities. If you want to
attain a high level of cardiovascular fitness, you should gradually work up to exercising
on most days of the week for 30 to 60 minutes at 50 to 80 percent of your maximum
Does exercise counteract the harmful effects of other risk factors?
Studies show that being physically fit lowers heart disease risk even in people who
have other health problems such as high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol.
To minimize risk, however, you should be physically fit and avoid the other major risk
factors you can do something about: cigarette smoke, high blood pressure, high blood
cholesterol and overweight.
Do women get the same benefits from exercise as men?
Most studies showing the positive effects of exercise have been done with men. The
few studies that have included women have indicated that women may benefit even
more than men from being physically fit. Early indications show that physically fit women
enjoy even greater reduced rates of death from heart disease than men.
Women who don't exercise have twice the chance of dying from heart disease as
women who do exercise. Similarly, women who smoke double their chances of dying
from heart disease when compared to women who don't smoke. Women may live
longer than men, but they don't necessarily live better. Elderly women who haven't
been physically active experience more disability in their daily functioning than women
who've been active.
I am an older adult. Is it too late for me to become physically active? Should I
take special precautions?
More and more older adults are proving every day that they aren't too old to exercise.
In fact, the older you are, the more you need regular exercise. However, you should take
some special precautions.
• If you have a family history of heart disease, check with your doctor first.
• Don't try to do too much too fast.
• Exercise at an intensity appropriate for you.
• Pick activities that are fun, that suit your needs and that you can do year-round.
• Wear comfortable clothing and footwear.
• Choose a well-lighted, safe place with a smooth, soft surface.
• Take more time to warm up and cool down before and after your workout.
• Stretch slowly.
As a parent, how can I make sure that my children (or grandchildren) are
Set a good example by practicing heart-healthy habits yourself. Limit sedentary
activities such as television, movies, videos and computer games to no more than
two hours a day. Plan active family outings and vacations. Assign household chores
(mowing lawns, raking leaves, scrubbing floors, etc.) that require physical exertion.
Observe what sports and activities appeal to your children, and then encourage their
development with lessons or by joining teams. If it's safe to walk or bike rather than
drive, do so. Use stairs instead of elevators and escalators. Make sure that your
children's physical activities at school or in daycare are adequate. When your children
are bored, suggest something that gets them moving, like playing catch or building a
For more information on physical activity and cardiovascular health,
please visit the following websites: