Staying active is one of the most important things you can do to prevent heart disease and improve your overall health and well-being.
It can help you lose weight, preserve your health as you grow older, or recover after a cardiac episode or procedure. Physical activity takes many forms and can be achieved at all ages.
“It is the best medicine,” said Dr. Randal Thomas, MD, medical director of the cardiac rehabilitation program at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. “The more active we are, the better our bodies are functioning.”
That includes heart muscle strength, artery health, and improved blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Physical activity helps oxygen move more efficiently through the body and can help the brain’s cognitive abilities.1
Check out this video to discover simple ways to boost your workouts.
Physical activity doesn’t require a gym membership or expensive exercise equipment and gear. “It can be very low cost,” Thomas said.
Dancing, walking in your neighborhood, raking leaves, or taking the stairs at work instead of the elevator are all ways to get moving. If you’ve been living a sedentary life, start with an activity you enjoy and keep your initial exercise session short, Thomas said.
“Get up off the couch and do something at least five minutes a day,” he said, suggesting that five minutes be added each day to build up gradually to a sustained period of movement.
The American Heart Association recommends adults get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity aerobic activity. Even short bursts of activity are helpful, and some exercise is better than none. A 15- or 20-minute walk can generate endorphins to help you feel good.2
“We can feel these effects pretty quickly,” Thomas said.
Endurance exercise, or aerobic activity, should be included along with strength, balance, and flexibility exercises as part of a healthy workout plan.3
If physical activity already is part of your routine, remain mindful of sitting for too many hours at a time. Extended sedentary time can be harmful and cause you to lose the benefits of exercise, Thomas added. It can increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.4
Exercise, age, and rehab
For those living with heart disease, including people who’ve had a recent heart attack or heart procedure, physical activity boosts recovery and may help avert issues later.
“We get people moving, literally, while they’re still in the hospital,” Thomas said. “The goal is to get a heart patient into a cardiac rehabilitation program within the first week of leaving the hospital.”
Cardiac rehab offers supervised exercise and includes nutrition counseling, smoking cessation assistance, and stress management. It can help reduce the risk of death from heart disease and reduce the risk of future heart problems.
“Patients should not fear exercise,” Thomas said. “Though some easing into exercise is necessary at the beginning, cardiac rehab patients can and should be physically active.”
Many health insurance plans cover cardiac rehab. Patients should work with their healthcare provider to get a referral and find out about co-payments under their health plan.
With all physical activity, people who have medical concerns should seek guidance from their physician first. Older people, for example, may want to pay special attention to balance, but they can remain active through supported seated aerobics, stationary bikes, or treadmills that have side rail handles.
In fact, the latest federal physical activity guidelines recommend older adults mix balance training with muscle-strengthening and aerobic activities.2
Children need exercise, too. Youngsters between 6 and 17 years old should get an hour or more of moderate to vigorous, mostly aerobic, physical activity each day.5
Try to ensure physical activity is part of play for younger children and consider organizing an active family event.
Physical activity can boost your pocketbook as well as your body.
For example, out-of-pocket medical costs can tally more than $2,000 per year for heart disease patients, according to a recent study.6
Cardiovascular disease and stroke cost the nation $351.2 billion between 2014 and 2015, including direct medical costs and indirect costs from lost productivity and mortality. That overall cost is projected to increase to $749 billion in 2035.7
In an effort to help prevent cardiovascular disease, the American Heart Association has developed Life’s Simple 7, easy-to-implement measures that can make a big difference in your overall health. Physical activity is one of the steps. The other six are eating a healthy diet, managing blood pressure, controlling cholesterol, reducing blood sugar, losing weight, and quitting smoking.
It’s never too late to get moving, even in your 50s, 60s, and beyond. Getting physically active inmiddle age and later can make for a brighter future.
Things to Consider:
- Start with five minutes of a physical activity you enjoy, then add another five minutes daily as you build up to 150 minutes per week.
- Organized exercise isn’t the only way to be physically active; consider dancing, walking or bicycling to get moving.
- If you have a medical condition or other concerns, seek guidance from your healthcare provider before beginning physical activity.
This article was prepared by the American Heart Association (AHA). Transamerica is not affiliated with the AHA and does not control, guarantee or endorse the information. This information does not constitute the practice of medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always talk to your healthcare provider for diagnosis and treatment, including your specific medical needs. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem or condition, please contact a qualified health care professional immediately. If you are in the United States and experiencing a medical emergency, call 911, or call for emergency medical help immediately.
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