The U.S. Surgeon General recommends that everyone should get a moderate amount
of physical activity on most, if not all, days of the week. Physical activity
is any activity that causes your body to work harder than normal. However,
the actual amount of physical activity you need depends on your individual
fitness goals, whether you are trying to lose weight, and how fit you currently
Here are some more specific guidelines for maintaining heart health and for
For heart health
To keep your heart healthy and maintain general fitness, you need to perform
cardiovascular exercise (also called aerobic exercise, described more in the
next step). This type of exercise gets your heart beating fast over a sustained
period of time.
No matter how hard you exercise, your heart has a maximum rate, a limit
to how fast it can beat. When you perform aerobic exercise, you want to keep
your heart beating between 50 - 75% of its maximum rate -- this is called your target
You benefit most when your heart beats in your target zone for at least 30
minutes total per day, for at least 3 days per week. Your target heart zone
is high enough to condition your heart, but does not put too much stress on
Monitoring your zone
At first, you may only know if you're within your target heart rate by taking
your pulse or wearing a heart rate monitor.
As you continue, you should become more familiar with your body's signals.
Generally, your body will tell you if you are working too hard. Here are some
warning signs that you might be overdoing it:
- You feel breathless. (You should be breathing deeply, but you should not
have to gasp for air.)
- You cannot comfortably carry on a conversation.
- You feel weak, dizzy, or lightheaded.
Note: if you have pain or pressure in your chest, neck, shoulder, or arm during
exercise that lasts more than 10 minutes, you must stop exercising and see
a doctor right away. The concern is that this pain may be caused by too much
strain on your heart, which could lead to a heart attack.
Not everyone can exercise within their target zone at first. Remember that
some physical activity is better than none. If you are starting from a sedentary
lifestyle, any amount of activity or exercise that you do is going to help
both your heart and your waistline. If you cannot yet reach your target heart
rate, or cannot sustain activity for very long, do what you can. As you get
more comfortable exercising, you will improve and be able to work harder and
You lose weight when your caloric expenditure (physical activity) is greater
than your caloric intake (food and drinks). If your goal is to lose weight,
try to get 60 minutes of physical activity equivalent to brisk walking each
day. This does NOT necessarily have to be aerobic exercise. The goal is to
burn calories, and you can do that countless ways, such as using the stairs
instead of the elevator, parking your car in the farthest parking space, or
mowing the lawn or gardening.
If you are doing an activity that takes more effort, like running, then 30
minutes a day should be sufficient. Or if you are doing something that takes
about half the effort of brisk walking, like gardening, you'll have to do it
twice as long -- 2 hours.
Having trouble doing your exercise all at once? That's no problem.
Spread it out throughout the day in 10 minute chunks of activity. Doing
this 3 - 6 times per day can still strengthen your heart and burn calories.
Review Date: 3/12/2007
Reviewed By: Benjamin W. Van Voorhees, MD, MPH, Assistant Professor of Medicine and Pediatrics, The University of Chicago, Chicago, IL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
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