Do you exercise? If so, do you exercise enough? For most people, the answer may be no. A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported nearly 80 percent of American adults don’t get the recommended amount of weekly exercise.
So, what’s our goal? To help support overall cardiovascular health in adults, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise. At first glance, these numbers may be intimidating. Carving out two and a half hours of exercise a week is a luxury many may not have. Fortunately, short workouts can still achieve great results.
“From a pure cardiovascular standpoint, five days of 30 minutes of low-moderate intensity exercise, such as brisk walking, is good enough for maintenance of health,” says Dr. George Chrysant, an interventional cardiologist with INTEGRIS Cardiovascular Physicians at INTEGRIS Heart Hospital in Oklahoma City.
He points out that while there is data supporting the view that exercise can be broken up into smaller increments, he recommends continuous exercise.
“A silly analogy I like to use is brushing your teeth. We brush our teeth every day, morning and night, for what purpose? To prevent cavities. Aerobic exercise is the ‘toothbrush’ to prevent the ‘cavities’ in our heart and arteries.”
Jennifer Daley, health and wellness coordinator at Saint Francis Health Zone in Tulsa, says that depending on an individual’s personal goals, health benefits can come from breaking up the time into segments.
“For beginners, the 30-minute recommendation can be overwhelming. If five minutes of exercise is a person’s limit, do it and then progressively add minutes, until 30 minutes is achieved,” says Daley. “Thirty minutes of moderate exercise per day for the general population will help individuals maintain their weight and overall health status. In addition, individuals can lower their risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, lower cholesterol and get better sleep.”
She emphasizes, however, that if someone’s goal is to lose weight, longer stretches of exercise are needed.
While walking is the perfect activity to begin a regular exercise routine, it’s also important and healthy to vary workouts.
Chrysant explains that for performance-oriented cardiovascular benefits, a higher- intensity cardio exercise works best.
Interval training or cross training will help build strength and endurance and lead to weight loss and changes in body shape, he says.
“A mix of running and biking or elliptical or all three for 10 minutes apiece is a great way to mix up your cardio and work different muscle groups,” says Chrysant. “Alternatively, or in combination, out of 10 minutes, two can be high intensity with the rest more moderate. Working at different resistances and different inclines can increase the level of difficulty. Seventy-five minutes of high intensity cardio a week will lead to better cardio shape.”
If going to the gym or hitting the pavement doesn’t appeal to you, there are other creative ways to get your heart pumping. The AHA offers helpful ideas that vary in intensity, including ballroom dancing, gardening, tennis and hiking. If one struggles at staying consistent, consider joining a group for accountability or keep track of your progress using an app on a smartphone. With cardiovascular disease being the No. 1 killer of women and men in the United States, it’s important to keep moving.
“Regular aerobic exercise is very beneficial and important to cardiovascular health,” says Daley. “A silly analogy I like to use is brushing your teeth. We brush our teeth every day, morning and night, for what purpose? To prevent cavities. Aerobic exercise is the ‘toothbrush’ to prevent the ‘cavities’ in our heart and arteries.”