Your heart, about the size of your fist, is a highly efficient pump. According to the American Heart Association, your heart pumps nearly 2,000 gallons of blood every day, or 5-1/2 quarts a minute and beats 100,000 times a day.
Unlike other muscles, your heart muscle does not tire from use. Your heart is like other muscles, however, in that it needs exercise to work efficiently. What kind of exercise would that be? All it takes is a brisk 40-minute walk 4 days each week. If you don't have time for 40 minutes of physical activity all at once, you can break it down into 2 or 3 smaller periods of time each day and get the same benefits.
In fact, any activity that is repetitive and involves some vigorous movement of large muscles — such as brisk walking, jogging, swimming, or bicycling — is good for your heart.
When you exercise, you are training your heart to perform better under pressure. Exercise forces your heart to supply your muscles with more oxygen and energy than is needed during rest, as well as flush out wastes that pile up in the muscles faster than when you are at rest. The result? A fit heart that can fill with blood and squeeze it out more efficiently.
Here's what a heart-smart exercise routine should include:
At least 5 minutes of warm-up. Starting your exercise session gradually helps avoid injury to your muscles and joints and minimizes aches and pains later. Take some deep breaths.
Moderate exercise. Exercise moderately for at least 30 minutes 5 days each week. Don't exercise to the point of total breathlessness. You should be able to carry on a conversation while exercising.
A cool down. Allow your body to cool down by walking or pedaling slowly for at least 5 minutes and gradually return to rest. Do some gentle stretches to keep your body limber and flexible.
When starting an exercise program, particularly if you haven't been active, begin easily and slowly increase the intensity and duration of the activity. Choose activities that you will want to do every day. Remember, before starting a new exercise program, check with your doctor first. This is especially important if you have a long-term health problem or take medications daily.
You will also benefit from lower-intensity activities, such as housework, gardening, and walking for pleasure.