What is heart healthy exercise and how much is good?

February 28, 2019

Sanjay Cherukuri, MD

Generally speaking, the more sedentary an individual is greater the absolute health benefit of exercise. In other words, if you think you do not move much, if you begin any amount of activity/exercise the absolute benefit is greater for you than your same-age neighbor who is more active. This is counter intuitive. Sedentary individuals tend to fare poorer overall, but they benefit greater with regular exercise since they start off at a lower baseline. 

If you are eager to start an exercise program with good health in mind, I would suggest the following:

  1. Begin with activity that you are familiar with. This will limit your risk of injury.
  2. Commit blocks of 10-20 minutes totaling 60-100 minutes per week. Get comfortable putting in the time!
  3. Think minutes per week for six months. Plan for six months but work by the week using blocks of 20 minutes as an immediate goal!
  4. Consider pushing yourself every six weeks, first by increasing an extra block of 20 minutes but allowing for recovery between exercise periods. You can up the ante every four to six weeks after.
  5. Walking is a good start for many. Moderate pace walking is an excellent start that is practical, inexpensive and often enjoyable in most seasons.
  6. Consider monitoring your exercise time. Writing down in an exercise log book or sheet is helpful to track progress over time. A variety of smartphone apps are an excellent alternative (Strava, Myfitnesspal, etc)
  7. More aggressive goals for exercise such as greater than two pounds per month weight loss, athletic performance, improvement of power are best addressed using the guidance of professionals. 
  8. Consider consultation with a fitness coach or an exercise physiologist, especially if a medical co-morbidity needs to be addressed as part of an exercise regimen. 

For the more advanced and conditioned individuals, monitoring exercise is an excellent choice and commitment to physical fitness. This has long-lasting cardiovascular benefits. Research also supports the associated reductions in body weight, fat percentage, and enhanced aerobic capacity promotes longevity. Heart rate monitoring allows tracking effort, calories burned, etc. A variety of online calculators and smartphone-based apps can help identify the various heart rate zones including an age-predicted maximal heart rate that allows you to compare the heart rate based output of each exercise episode.

This column is a lead up to a panel discussion titled “Being fit and heart healthy: Exercise yet be joint happy” along with my colleagues from Pulmonology and Orthopedics. The event is being held tonight at 6 p.m. at the Wilson Country Club. Please call 252-399-8484 for details.

Sanjay Cherukuri, M.D., is board certified in interventional cardiology, cardiovascular disease and internal medicine. He practices at North Carolina Heart & Vascular in Wilson.