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How to Start an Exercise Program that Benefits the Heart

Dr. Neel Chokshi, a cardiologist specializing in cardiac risk prevention, cardiovascular fitness and sports cardiology, discusses starting a fitness program and the effect exercise has on the heart.

Portrait of Neel Chokshi, MDExercise can be exhausting, even before you start working out. With ever-changing guidelines and fitness fads, it’s tough to know what’s best for your body. Regardless, the best exercise program is a consistent one. The benefits of staying active have an overwhelmingly positive effect on your overall health and your heart.

Where to Begin

Whether you’re at high risk for heart disease or in good health, there are two key things you should do when starting an exercise program.

First, talk with a primary care physician or cardiologist to get a sense of any underlying risk. Although the conversation may be short depending on your medical history, they can advise on questions such as “Is it safe for me to do this?” and “Do I need to have any testing completed beforehand?”

Secondly, a physician can also advise on what type of activities and length of time is appropriate for your age. Recommendations are dramatically different if you're 65 years old and want to start running then if you’re 25 and in relatively good shape.

Getting Started

After speaking with a physician, it’s time to start a program. If you haven’t exercised in the past, find something you enjoy and start slowly. Swimming is a great activity to start with because it works your heart and joints. However, don’t expect to do 60 laps your first time. Begin gradually and build up endurance over time.

What are the recommendations?

The American Heart Association recommends the following:

For overall cardiovascular health

  • At least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity at least 5 days per week for a total of 150 minutes OR at least 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity 3 days per week for a total of 75 minutes
  • For lowering blood pressure and cholesterol

  • An average 40 minutes of moderate-to vigorous-intensity aerobic activity 3 or 4 times per week
  • Benefits for Your Heart

    The heart is a muscle and gets stronger when leading an active lifestyle. Regular exercise can help:

    • Reduce risk for coronary heart disease - a condition where plaque builds up on the arteries that supply oxygen rich blood to the heart.
    • Lower blood pressure
    • Lower “bad” cholesterol and raise “good” cholesterol
    • Burn calories
    • Build muscle
    • Improve sleep and mental health
    • Lower stress and anxiety

    It’s never too late to start exercising. Even a small increase in activity is a positive change. Start out slow and before you know it you’ll feel better - not just physically but mentally as well.

    About this Blog

    The Penn Heart and Vascular blog provides the latest information on heart disease prevention, nutrition and breakthroughs in cardiovascular care.

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