July 7, 2002 at 5:14 PM EST - Updated July 1 at 9:35 AM
Studies show physical inactivity as a major risk factor for the development of coronary artery disease. It also contributes to obesity, high blood pressure, and a low level of HDL cholesterol. Regular aerobic physical activity plays a role in both primary and secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease, and can help control blood lipid abnormalities, diabetes, obesity, blood pressure, and cigarette smoking. The results of pooled research suggests recovering heart attack patients who modify behavior to include regular exercise earn better rates of survival. Healthy persons, as well as many patients with cardiovascular disease, can improve exercise performance with training.
Programs designed to improve physical fitness take into account frequency (how often), intensity (how hard), and time (how long).
For health benefits to the heart, lungs, and circulation, perform any vigorous activity for at least 30 minutes, 3-4 days each week at 50-75 percent of maximum heart rate. Please find a few examples below, and remember that physical activity need not turn strenuous to yield results.
brisk walking, hiking, stair-climbing
jogging, running, bicycling, rowing, swimming
soccer, basketball, or any other that includes continuous running.
The training effects of such activities become most apparent at intensities exceeding 50 percent of a person's exercise capacity (maximum heart rate). Adults who maintain a regular routine of physical activity of longer duration or greater intensity will likely achieve greater benefits. However, overdoing physical activity can result in injury.
For people who cannot exercise vigorously, scientific evidence supports the notion that even moderate and low-intensity activities, when performed daily, can produce long-term health benefits. Examples include:
walking for pleasure, gardening, yard work
house work, dancing, prescribed home exercise
recreational activities such as tennis, racquetball, soccer, basketball, touch football
What are other benefits of exercise? Physical activity builds healthy bones, muscles and joints, and reduces the risk of colon cancer. In fact, millions of Americans suffer from illnesses that can be prevented or improved through regular physical activity. Physical activity also brings psychological benefits. For example, it reduces feelings of depression and anxiety, improves mood and promotes a feeling of well-being.
Consult a doctor before starting a vigorous exercise program, or if any of the following conditions occur:
pain or pressure in the left or mid-chest area, left neck, shoulder, or arm during or right after exercise
chest pain within the last month
loss of consciousness or fall over due to dizziness