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Get Active For Your Heart: Getting Started

We all know that getting enough exercise is important. Here's how to make sure you're doing it right. 

How much exercise do I need to stay heart-healthy?
You should perform 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per day. 

What counts as aerobic activity?
Any activity that gets you breathing harder and your heart beating faster at a moderate intensity.  Walking is a great aerobic activity, and probably the simplest way to start an exercise routine. It is easy, safe and free!   Other options include cycling on a stationary or regular bike, swimming, jogging, and other aerobic machines such as elliptical machines and stair climbers.

How do I measure the intensity of my aerobic activity? 
The talk test is a simple way to measure intensity.  If you are able to sing a song during the activity, then you are doing low-intensity activity and should try to pick up the pace.  If you are able to talk, but not sing, during the activity, then you are doing moderate-intensity activity.  If you are only able to say a few words without pausing for a breath during the activity, then you are doing vigorous-intensity activity.  The goal is to maintain a moderate level of intensity during aerobic activities.  Another way of monitoring intensity is to determine your target heart rate.  For moderate-intensity aerobic activity, your target heart rate should be between 50% and 70% of your maximum heart rate.  Here's how to determine you maximum and target heart rates:

  • 220-your age=maximum heart rate
  • Maximum heart rate x 0.50=50% level
  • Maximum heart rate x 0.70=70% level

For example, if you are 50 years old, your estimated maximum heart rate would be 220-50, which is 170 beats per minute (bpm). Your 50% level would be 170 x 0.5, which is 85 bpm. Your 70% level would be 170 x 0.7, which is 119 bpm. Thus, in order to maintain moderate-intensity aerobic activity, your heart rate would need to be between 85 and 119 beats per minute during the activity.
You need to stop exercising briefly to check your heart rate or pulse. This can be done at the neck or wrist, but the easiest way is probably the wrist. Place the tips of your index and middle fingers on the inside of your wrist in line with your thumb. Do not use your thumb to find your pulse. (You can count the beats for 30 seconds and multiple that number by 2 or count for 15 seconds and multiple by 4 to get your beats per minute)
For more vigorous exercise, you can go up to 85% of your maximum heart rate, but it is not recommended to exercise above 85% of your maximum heart rate.

The American Heart Association offers information, tools and resources to get started walking.


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