Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What's the leading cause of death in America?

A: Cardiovascular disease. CVD claimed 960,000 lives in America last year, accounting for more than 41.5 percent of all deaths.

Q: What's one major risk factor for heart disease and other health problems?

A: Lack of physical activity. Studies show exercise reduces the risk of heart disease. Less fit people own a 30-50 percent greater risk of developing high blood pressure. Regular activity may also reduce the risk of some kinds of embolic strokes.

Q: Can moderate to low-intensity activity bring benefits?

A: Most definitely. When done for as little 30 minutes a day, activities such as pleasure walking, climbing stairs, gardening, yard work, moderate to heavy housework, dancing, and home exercise can prove beneficial. Again, doing anything serves as better than nothing.

Q: What type of activity's best for improving the fitness of the heart and lungs?

A: More vigorous aerobic activities such as brisk walking, running, swimming, bicycling, roller-skating, and jumping rope -- done three to four times a week for 30-60 minutes.

Q: What percentage of American adults gets enough exercise to achieve cardiovascular fitness?

A: Only 22 percent. Fifty-three percent get some exercise, but not regularly or intensely enough to protect the hearts. Another 25 percent don't stay active at all.

Q: If I exercise, will I prevent heart disease?

A: Physical inactivity, along with cigarette smoking, high blood pressure, and high blood cholesterol, serve as one of the major modifiable risk factors for heart attack. While doctors cannot guarantee a patient will not get heart disease, the chances of it developing decrease with the avoidance of risk factors.

Q: I have been inactive for years. Shouldn't I see a doctor before I start becoming physically active?

A: Inactive people middle-aged or older or those with a pre-existing medical condition should seek medical advice before starting or significantly increasing physical activity. Most apparently healthy people of any age can safely engage in moderate levels of physical activity, like moderate walking, gardening, or yard work, without prior consultation.

Q: Is exercise safe?

A: The potential health benefits of exercise greatly outweigh the risk, although vigorous activities carry a very slight increased risk of death due to heart attack. If concerned, consult a doctor first.

Q: Do I need to do vigorous exercise?

A: To achieve health benefits, no. Doing moderate-level activities often will help lower health risks. To attain a high level of cardiovascular fitness, gradually work up to exercising at least three or four times a week for 30-60 minutes at 50-80 percent of maximum capacity.

Q: Does exercise counteract the harmful effects of other risk factors?

A: Studies show physically fitness lowers heart disease risk even in people with other health problems such as high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol. To minimize risk, however, avoid the other major modifiable risk factors: cigarette smoke, high blood pressure, and high blood cholesterol.

Q: Do women get the same benefits from exercise as men?

A: Most research showing the positive effects of exercise involve men. However, a few studies indicate that women may benefit even more from physical fitness. Women who do not exercise have twice the chance of dying from heart disease than women who do, just as women who smoke double the chances of dying from heart disease. Women may live longer than men, but don't necessarily live better. Also, inactive elderly women experience more disability in daily functions.

Q: I am a senior citizen. Is it too late for me to become physically active? Should I take special precautions?

A: More and more seniors prove every day the benefits of exercise. In fact, older people need more regular activities. However, keep in mind special precautions. If owning a family history of heart disease, check with a doctor first. Don't try to do too much too fast. Exercise at a personally appropriate intensity. Pick fun, suitable, activities available year-round. Wear comfortable clothing and footwear. Choose a well-lighted, safe place with a smooth, soft surface. Take more time to warm up and cool down before and after the workout. Stretch slowly. Don't rely on a sense of thirst; drink water on a fixed schedule.

Q: As a parent, how can I make sure that my children are physically fit?

A: Set a good example by practicing good heart healthy habits yourself. Limit sedentary activities such as television, movies, videos, and computer games to no more than two hours a day. Plan active family outings and vacations. Assign household chores (mowing lawns, raking leaves, scrubbing floors, etc.) that require physical exertion. Observe what sports and activities appeal to children, and then encourage their development with lessons or by joining teams.