It is well known that exercise is needed for cardiovascular health, but just how much is needed and how often? Dr. Ihab Hamzeh, assistant professor of medicine - cardiology at Baylor College of Medicine, has answers to some common questions to get you started on the right foot when it comes to improving heart health.
Q: How much exercise is recommended for cardiovascular health?
A: At least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week or at least 75 minutes of vigorous intensity exercise per week. That’s according to the World Health Organization and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Moderate: Walking briskly (greater than or equal to 3 miles/hr) water aerobics, bicycling (less than 10 miles/hr), general gardening, ballroom dancing
Vigorous: Race walking (greater than or equal to 4.5 miles/hr), jogging or running, swimming laps, tennis (singles), bicycling (greater than 10 miles /hr),jumping rope, heavy gardening such as digging, hiking uphill or with a heavy backpack.
Q: How often should a person exercise?
A: The American Heart Association suggests moderate exercise goals be split into 30 minutes five times per week (the 30 minutes can also be split into two exercises).
Vigorous exercise goals can be split into 25 minutes, three times per week.
Q: But what if I am too busy to exercise 3 to 5 times per week?
A: A recent study from the U.K. published this year (1994-2012 England and Scottish Health Survey including almost 64,000 individuals)showed that those who condensed their workouts into one or two sessions per week, “weekend warriors,” derived the same health benefits as those who were regularly active for the same amount of time throughout the week.
Even those labeled insufficiently active (reporting <150 minutes per week) derived significant health benefits compared with inactive individuals! Any amount of activity is better than none.
Q: What are the benefits of activity?
A: Referencing the U.K. study published this year, the benefits of activity compared to the inactive group included an approximately 30 percent decrease in total mortality for all levels of active groups. Cardiovascular disease mortality followed suit with a 40 percent reduction and, importantly, cancer mortality risk also decreased by almost 20 percent in all levels of the active groups.
Q: It is clear that being active is crucial to overall health, but is it all or nothing?
A: No, even though regular activity is the ideal option, when faced with time constraints condensing your exercise into one or two sessions (weekend warrior style) or trying to do as much exercise as your time permits (despite falling short of the time recommendation) are both associated with health benefits.
Q: What are some examples of different exercises and which is more beneficial?
A: Running, jogging and walking are all good examples. A study using the National Runners and Walkers’ Health Study Cohorts (2013) showed that for equivalent energy expenditures, meaning when the same amount of calories are burned, walking or running had similar reduction on incidence of hypertension, cholesterol and diabetes.
Q: Can a person exercise after a heart attack?
A: If you have suffered a heart attack any type of activity should be discussed with your doctor. Exercise such as running and walking has been shown to be beneficial for survival within reasonable limits. It is important to talk to your doctor about how often and how vigorous.
Q: Are weight-based exercises also beneficial?
A: Absolutely! A combination of aerobic exercise and weight-based exercise is better than either one alone for controlling blood glucose in diabetic patients. The American Heart Association and the CDC also recommends muscle-strengthening exercises on two or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms) in addition to the aerobic exercise.
Q: Do you have any tips to add more activity to my day?
A: Always use the stairs.
Park in the farthest spot from your destination.
Walk during your lunch break.
Trade walking for driving if you are going less than a mile away.
Aim for exercise to cover at least 7.5 miles per week
Q: What if I don’t have to change locations for work and sit at my computer all day.
A: If your work requires you to sit more than 8 hours per day, then mortality may be increased, according to a recent study published in a top medical journal. The silver lining is that the study also found that the increased mortality can be offset if you increase leisure time moderate activity to at least 5.25 vs. 2.5 hours minimum (translating into about 16 miles per week of walking at about 20 minutes per mile).