What's the Link Between Physical Activity and Health?

Even with risk factors for heart disease such as high blood pressure, diabetes or high cholesterol, people who enjoy regular physical activity have lower death rates than people who have no risk factors but who aren't physically active. What's more, people with heart disease who are physically fit live longer and have fewer heart attacks than heart patients who aren't physically fit. The facts are clear: Regular physical activity benefits people who have heart disease as well as those who don't.

Regular physical activity helps:

What type of physical activity is best?

Any type of physical activity is good if it makes your muscles work more than usual. The heart is a muscle and benefits from a workout just like other muscles in your body.

Physical activity for your heart

Physical activities that involve steady, rhythmic movement of the legs and arms are called "aerobic" exercises and are especially good for the heart. Examples include moderate-intensity aerobic activities such as brisk walking and water aerobics. Vigorous-intensity aerobic activities include swimming laps and running. Regular aerobic exercise conditions the heart to pump blood to the whole body.

Adults with chronic conditions or disabilities should get regular physical activity according to their abilities and should avoid inactivity. Work up to at least 150 minutes (two hours and 30 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes (one hour and 15 minutes) of vigorous-intensity activity (or a combination of both) each week. Preferably, activity should be spread throughout the week. Even greater benefits can be achieved at up to 300 minutes (five hours) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 150 minutes (two hours and 30 minutes) of vigorous-intensity activity each week.

Learn more about the American Heart Association’s physical activity recommendations.

Talk with a health care professional or physical activity specialist about the types and amounts of aerobic activity appropriate for you. 

Physical activity for your other muscles

Stretching and strengthening activities keep muscles in good working order. Include strength training in your exercise routine at least twice a week.

Muscles lose strength and flexibility as you get older. Common tasks become more difficult, such as bending over to tie shoes, opening a jar, lifting a bag of groceries or even getting out of a chair. When your muscles aren't in good shape, you're more likely to lose your balance and fall. Strengthening exercises can also help boost your metabolism so you get more benefit out of your aerobic activities and lose weight faster.

How to get started

Healthy adults generally do not need to consult a health care professional before becoming physically active. But if you have a chronic condition, your health care team can help you plan an appropriate physical activity program and may refer you to a formal cardiac rehabilitation program  to help you learn to be active safely. You may also need an exercise stress test before you become active again.

Your health care professional can tell you what symptoms to watch for during physical activity and what to do if you have any of these symptoms.