Staying fit and active can help keep you free of cardiovascular disease, but it takes dedication.
Exercise and an active lifestyle go a long way towards helping prevent cardiovascular disease. In general, those with healthier hearts have a lower mortality rate. But what exactly is an active lifestyle, and how can you ensure that once you’ve begun exercising, you’ll continue?
Asking For Help to Start an Exercise Program
It might not seem easy to start exercising, but Irv Rubenstein, PhD, founder and president of STEPS, Inc., a personal fitness training company in Nashville, Tenn., and a certified post-rehabilitation specialist, says that finding someone to help you may be the answer.
“If you can’t find a consistent block of time to do exercise, then getting started may require an appointment with a trainer, a friend, or a group, someone to be responsible to,” says Dr. Rubenstein. “I’ve dealt with folks who have an excuse not to do anything on their own, but who are perfectly content getting all their fitness in by seeing a trainer twice a week.”
Build an Active Lifestyle
Rubenstein suggests making a commitment to make some very minimal lifestyle changes, such as walking 10 to 15 minutes three or four times per week. Then you can gradually add two minutes to each walk until you’re able to do 30 minutes. At that point, he says, “Cut back the minutes and add a day, then over time, increase days and minutes until you’re able to do at least 30 minutes most days of the week.”
Is Walking Enough Physical Activity?
Walking is an ideal exercise for beginners because it’s accessible and doable. Walking is a cardiovascular or aerobic exercise, which helps the heart work harder. There are other types of exercise that are anaerobic, for muscle strengthening and flexibility.
Before You Start Exercising
Before beginning a fitness program, make sure that the exercises you choose are right for you. It’s particularly important to speak with a doctor if you have any of the following:
- Previous heart problems or a family history of cardiovascular disease
- Chronic diseases, such as diabetes or hypertension
- Bone or joint problems, such as arthritis
- Any health issue for which you take prescription medications
You also need to speak with your doctor if:
- You smoke
- You’re obese
- You’re over 50 (woman) or 45 (man) and not used to exercising
How Much Time Should You Devote to Fitness?
Although everyone is different, even just 30 minutes per day can help prevent heart disease. However, Rubenstein says, “Much depends on the point from which you start. Fit folks have to work harder to improve their heart health; the unfit only have to do something.”
“For the most part,” he continues, “younger people — say under 45 — need to do more to keep their hearts healthy than do older folks, in frequency, intensity, and perhaps duration.”
Older people who aren’t in shape may need only 15 to 30 minutes of activity a few days per week to see improvement. But, says Rubenstein, “Optimal heart health requires over 30 minutes nearly daily at a moderate pace, or 15 to 20 minutes three to four times a week at an intense pace.”
Getting Into a Fitness Routine
If you get into the habit of exercising regularly, you likely won’t want to break the habit. “Create the habit slowly, one change at a time,” Rubenstein suggests. “Keep a record, on a calendar, preferably one that’s visible and open at all times.” And only commit to what you know you can do at that particular time.
Breaking Out of a Fitness Rut
Just as bad as not being able to stick to a routine is getting stuck in a rut and wanting to quit. Rubenstein says that this happens to just about everyone, even great athletes. “First, evaluate what you’ve been doing. If it’s been leaving you sore or even hurt, take some time off from that activity or change to another that doesn’t overstress the hurt part(s).”
“Second, reduce your commitment to manageable levels. Instead of three to five workouts per week, do one to two workouts for a few weeks. If boredom is pervasive, find an alternative. Instead of jogging, swim — get out of the gym or outdoors. Instead of weight training, run or cycle outdoors; instead of martial arts, try weight training, cardio, yoga, or some other sport.”
But the real motivator is your desire: You have to want to exercise. “Honestly assess what you can or will do,” says Rubenstein, and be realistic in your choices and your goals.