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Exercise: Good for Heart Health Too!

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People often think exercise is just a way to lose weight. It’s true that regular physical activity is a valuable way to reach and maintain a healthy body mass. But the benefits of exercise go well beyond the numbers on the scale.

“Individuals who are physically active are much less likely to develop cardiovascular disease,” says Johns Hopkins cardiologist Chiadi E. Ndumele, M.D., M.H.S. And that’s true regardless of how much you weigh. 

“Even in the absence of weight loss, physical activity has significant beneficial effects,” he says.

Here’s what you should know about moving your muscles, no matter what you weigh.

Fitness vs. Fatness

As a general rule of thumb, the higher your body mass index (BMI), the greater the risk of heart disease. But there’s more to the story than BMI, Ndumele says. 

Recent research from Johns Hopkins experts found that reduced exercise capacity — in other words, poor fitness — could actually be life-threatening, regardless of a person’s BMI. 

And a 2014 study in the European Heart Journal found people who were overweight or obese, yet physically fit, were not at any greater risk of dying from heart disease or cancer than were people with a BMI in the normal range. 

“Physical activity improves [heart disease] risk factors like blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar and insulin levels — regardless of whether you lower your BMI,” Ndumele says.

Exercise Tips for Heart Health

So how do you get in shape? One step at a time. “If you’re consistently active over time, you become physically fit,” explains Ndumele.

For heart-healthy levels of fitness, the American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes a week of moderate activity, or 75 minutes of vigorous activity weekly. Ideally, that should be spread out over several days, Ndumele says. “Try to be physically active on most days of the week.”

Here are his tips for adding more activity into your routine:

  • Find exercise you enjoy. You don’t have to run marathons or take a high-intensity class at the gym to meet the guidelines. A brisk walk counts as moderate activity, Ndumele says.
  • Go slow. If you’re inactive, start with small changes to your routine. As you build stamina and improve your fitness, you can increase the duration and intensity of your activities.
  • Schedule it. Make exercise a priority by scheduling it in your calendar. If you can, try setting a 15- or 30-minute appointment with yourself for a brisk walk during your workday. And treat it like a can’t-miss meeting.
  • Find a fitness buddy. Exercising with a partner makes it more enjoyable and also increases your accountability.
  • Keep it simple. Look for simple ways to boost your activity levels. Park at the back of the parking lot, or take the stairs instead of the elevator.

Every little bit helps, Ndumele adds. “The more activity you do, the lower your risk will be.” 

 

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