How Can Physical Activity Become a Way of Life?

If you aren’t in the habit of being physically active, you’re probably being told you should start. That’s because regular physical activity reduces your risk of heart disease and stroke. It also helps you reduce or manage other risk factors — high blood pressure, high cholesterol, excess weight and diabetes. But the benefits don’t stop there. You may look and feel better, become stronger and more flexible, have more energy, and reduce stress and tension.

How do I start?

• Start slowly — don’t overdo it!

• Choose activities you enjoy. Pick a start date that fits your schedule and gives you enough time to begin your program. Walking is a great way to get started!

• Wear comfortable clothes and shoes.

• Try to exercise at the same time each day so it becomes a regular part of your lifestyle.

• Drink water before, during and after each exercise session.

• Use the buddy system! Ask a friend to start a program with you.

• Note the days you exercise and write down the distance or length of time of your workout and how you feel after each session.

• Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise each week. Add muscle-strengthening exercise on at least 2 days a week.

• If you miss a day, plan a make-up day.

What will keep me going?

• Get your family into physical activity! It’s great to have a support system, and you’ll be getting them into an important health habit.

• Join an exercise group, health club or local community center.

• Choose an activity you like and make sure it’s convenient for you. If you need good weather, have a back-up plan for bad days (e.g., when it rains, walk in the mall instead of the park).

• Learn a new sport you think you might enjoy, or take lessons to improve at one you know.

• Do a variety of activities. Take a brisk walk one day, a swim the next time. Then go for a bike ride on the weekend!

• Make physical activity a routine so it becomes a habit.

• If you stop for any length of time, don’t lose hope! Just get started again and work up to your old pace.

What else should I know?

• Try not to compare yourself with others. Your goal should be personal health and fitness.

• Think about whether you like to exercise alone or with other people, outside or inside, what time of day is best, and what kind of exercise you most enjoy doing.

• If you feel like quitting, remind yourself of all the reasons you started. Also think about how far you’ve come!

• Don’t push yourself too hard. You should be able to talk during moderate exercise.

Why Should I Be Physically Active?

If your doctor has suggested that you begin a physical activity program, follow that advice. The American Heart Association recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week. People who don’t get enough physical activity are much more likely to develop health problems.

Regular, moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity can lower your risk of:

• Heart disease and heart attack

• High blood pressure

• High total cholesterol, high LDL (bad) cholesterol and low HDL (good) cholesterol

• Overweight or obesity

• Diabetes

• Stroke

What else can physical activity do for me?

Physical activity is associated with these benefits:

• Strengthens your heart, lungs, bones and muscles.

• Gives you more energy and strength.

• Helps control your weight and blood pressure.

• Helps you handle stress.

• Helps your quality of sleep.

• Helps you feel better about how you look.

What kind of activities should I do?

You don’t have to be an athlete to lower your risk of heart disease and stroke! If done on most or all days, you can benefit from moderate activities like these:

• Brisk walking

• Gardening and yard work

• Moderate to heavy housework

• Pleasure dancing and home exercise

More vigorous physical activity can further improve the fitness of your heart and lungs. Start slowly, and build up as your heart gets stronger. Start with light or moderate intensity activity, for short periods of time. Spread your sessions throughout the week.

 

Most healthy adults do not need to consult a doctor or healthcare provider before becoming more physically active. But healthcare providers can provide advice on the types of activities best for you and ways to progress at a safe and steady pace. Then try one or more of these:

• Hiking or jogging

• Stair climbing

• Bicycling, swimming or rowing

• Aerobic dancing or cross-country skiing

How often should I exercise?

• Work up to a total of least 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity per week.

• Make sure it’s regular — you can reach your 150 minute goal by getting about 30 minutes of physical activity on most or all days of the week.

What else can I do?

Look for ways to add more physical activity to your daily routine. Making small changes in your lifestyle can make a big difference in your overall health. Here are some examples:

• Take a walk for 10 or 15 minutes during your lunch break.

• Take stairs instead of escalators and elevators.

• Park farther from the store and walk through the parking lot.