Your heart, about the size of a clenched 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 30-minute walk five days each week. If you don't have time for 30 minutes of physical activity all at once, you can break it down into two or three 10-15 minute periods 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.
The makings of a hearty workout
When you exercise, you are conditioning 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 five minutes of warm-up. Starting your exercise session gradually helps avoid injury to your muscles and joints and minimizes aches and pains later. Breathe deeply as you warm up.
Moderate exercise. Exercise moderately for at least 30 minutes five 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 and gradually return to rest. Do some gentle stretches to keep your body limber and flexible.
When starting an exercise program, particularly if you've been sedentary, begin easily and slowly increase the intensity and duration of the activity. Choose activities that you will want to do daily. Remember, before starting a new exercise program, check with your doctor first. This is especially important if you have a chronic health problem or take medications daily.
You also reap some long-term health benefits from lower-intensity activities, such as housework, gardening, and walking for pleasure.