Heart Health & Exercise

Your healthcare provider says that exercise can improve your heart health.  Even if you have heart trouble, adopting an active lifestyle that includes regular exercise is important.  In fact, it is one of your links to a healthy, enjoyable future.

Are you thinking about exercise?

If you’re thinking about exercise, you’re on the right track.  Learning more about the rewards of being active may help you get started.  And wanting a better life for yourself may help you make exercise part of your daily routine.

Overcoming Your Hurdles

Starting an exercise program may seem like a big goal.  But you can build up to your goal slowly.  If you are just starting to exercise routinely, know that it can be fun.  The goal is to choose an activity that you like.  If your days are often hectic, you may need to juggle your schedule.  But do make your health a top priority.  If you don’t plan to exercise soon, ask yourself why.  Think about ways you can overcome your hurdles.

Exercise is Good for You

Exercising regularly offers many healthy rewards.  It can help you:

·         Improve your cholesterol levels to help prevent further heart trouble.

·         Lower your blood pressure to help prevent a stroke or heart attack.

·         Control diabetes, or reduce your risk of getting this disease.

·         Improve your heart and lung function.

·         Reach and maintain a healthy weight.

·         Make your muscles stronger and more limber so you can stay active.

·         Prevent falls and fractures by slowing the loss of bone mass (osteoporosis).

·         Manage stress better.

Exercise Feels Good, Too

Exercise isn’t just good for your body.  It can also help you enjoy a better life.  People who have started exercising and have kept it up say they feel:

·         Better about themselves.

·         More upbeat about life.

·         More energetic.

·         More relaxed.

Before Getting Started

Before you start exercising, your healthcare provider may advise you to have an exercise stress test.  This test shows how your body responds to exercise.  Your exercise stress test may be done on a treadmill (a moving platform that you walk on) or on an exercise bike.  You may also have other special cardiac tests.  Based on these results, you and your healthcare provider can plan an exercise program that is safe and effective.

Ensuring Your Safety and Comfort

If you feel safe and comfortable while exercising, you are more likely to enjoy your workouts.  You also have a better chance of maintaining your exercise program.  Following the guidelines below can help ensure your safety and comfort.

Dressing Right for Exercise

When dressing for exercise, it’s best to wear loose-fitting clothes.  Put on layers, so you can take something off if you get hot.  Always wear shoes that fit well and are designed for exercise.  When it’s cool outside, wear a hat to retain your body heat.  Protect your eyes and skin from sun with a wide-brimmed hat or visor and sunscreen.

Exercising Safely

Following a few guidelines can help you exercise safely.  Exercise indoors on hot, cold, humid, or windy days, or when the air outdoors is polluted.  You can do this at a shopping mall or gym.  Drink plenty of water before and after exercise.  Also, take frequent breaks for water during exercise.  If you take medication for angina, always carry it with you.

Becoming Active Step by Step

To get fit, you don’t need to become an athlete.  But you do need a certain amount of exercise to improve your heart health.  Aim to get at least 40 minutes of exercise, 3 to 4 days a week.  As you get stronger, try to increase this amount to at least 30 minutes of exercise, most days of the week.

Take it One Step at a Time

If you have heart trouble or this is the first time you’ve started an exercise program, ease into your routine.  Set small goals, then build on them.  In time, you will be doing enough exercise to improve your heart health. 

Reaching Your Goal

You will reap the most benefits if you exercise at least 30 minutes on most days.  This is about the same amount of time as watching a TV show or going to the market.  You don’t have to complete your entire exercise program at once.  You can also reach your goal by breaking up exercise into 10-minute sessions spread throughout the day.

Adding Activity to Your Day

Besides doing your exercise program, try being more active throughout the day.  Start by moving more during your daily routines.  When doing errands, walk as much as you can.  Take on more household tasks or yard work.  For fun, chat with a friend while on a walk, rather than on the phone.  Visit a local park or go out dancing instead of watching TV.

The Right Kind of Exercise

The right kind of exercise can improve how well your heart functions.  You need to move at a brisk pace so your heart will beat faster.  Moving this way will cause you to breathe harder, and you may break into a sweat.  Exercise should fit your lifestyle, too.  It should be safe, fun, and comfortable for you.  And it should fit your budget and schedule.

Picking Your Best Options

What kind of exercise you do is up to you?  Swimming, walking, and riding a bike all can improve how well your heart functions.  So can many group fitness classes or exercise videos.  But what also matters is that your activity should work for you.  Do activities that you enjoy.  For a change of pace, mix and match activities from day to day.  Ask your healthcare provider what options may be best for you.

Why Walking Works

Walking works for most people.  All it takes is a pair of sturdy, well-fitting walking shoes.  Be sure to start slowly, such as walking 10 minutes a few days each week.  As this gets easier, increase how long and how often you walk.  Continue until you reach your daily exercise goal.

What’s in an Exercise Program?

Whatever kind of exercise you choose, you will need to make it part of a regular routine.  Exercise on most or, ideally, on all days of the week.  Your routine should include a warm-up, moderate-intensity (brisk) exercise, and a cool-down session.  You should also add muscle-strengthening exercises to your routine 2 or 3 days a week.

Learning to Pace Yourself

Moving briskly can improve your heart health, but don’t overdo it.  To strike the right balance, learn to judge how hard you are exercising.  Pace yourself by using the talk test, checking your pulse (heart rate), or doing both.  Ask your healthcare provider which method is best for you.

Using the Talk Test

The talk test can help you find out how hard you’re exercising.  You should be able to carry on a conversation without slowing down your exercise.  If you are too out of breath to talk comfortably, you’re likely exercising too hard.  Slow down, and find a pace that lets you talk with less effort.

Checking Your Pulse

Check your pulse before, during, and after exercise.  This is a good way to find out how hard you are working when you exercise.  To check your pulse, gently press your index and middle fingers against the inside of your wrist.  Count the number of beats you feel for 10 seconds.  Then, multiply that number by 6.  Ask your healthcare provider what your pulse should be during exercise.

Cardiac Rehabilitation

If you have been diagnosed with heart disease or you are recovering from an event such as a heart attack or heart surgery, Cardiac Rehabilitation may be recommended to you to help you have a healthier heart.  A large part of a Cardiac Rehab program involves strengthening the heart muscle with exercise.  Aerobic exercise helps your heart and other muscles use oxygen better.  Regular exercise improves the health of the heart and arteries. 

The Jefferson County Health Center Cardiac Rehab exercise program includes the use of treadmills, Nusteps (recumbent bikes), and light weights.  Patients are shown how to use them to get the most benefit.  Additionally, heart rate, rhythm, and blood pressure are monitored during exercise.  Cardiac Rehab offers a safe, medically supervised way to gradually build your activity tolerance.


Sherri L. Brumbaugh RN, BSN (JCHC Cardiac Rehabilitation)

References: “Fitness and Heart Disease”, Krames booklet (2015)

                      “Understanding Cardiac Rehabilitation”, Krames booklet (2018)