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Home » Wellness » Exercise: The Key to Heart Health at Any Age

John A. Sawdon

Public Education & Special Projects Director, Cardiac Health Foundation of Canada

Exercising regularly is a key strategy in preventing heart disease. It’s an easy lifestyle habit to adopt that helps to reduce high blood pressure and improve poor cholesterol levels. If these factors aren’t under control, they can lead to significant health issues including heart disease, obesity, heart attacks, and/or strokes.

Unfortunately, only 20% of Canadian adults and 10% of Canadian children and youth meet the standards outlined in the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines. Beginning to exercise may seem like a daunting task, but it can be easy to get started with these four simple steps.

1. Understand the importance of activity

Physical activity includes any body movement that works your muscles and requires more energy than resting. When we do regular, moderate, and vigorous physical activity, it strengthens the heart muscle. This improves its ability to pump blood throughout your body, meaning more blood flows to your muscles, and oxygen levels in your blood rise. Capillaries, which are the body’s tiny blood vessels, also widen. This allows them to deliver more oxygen to your body, strengthening cells and removing waste.

2. Know the basics

There are four types of physical activity: aerobic, muscle strengthening, bone-strengthening, and stretching. Aerobic exercise is the best method to strengthen your heart as it makes your heart beat faster than usual, which in turn makes you breathe harder. Over time, aerobic activities such as walking, running, cycling, dancing, and swimming make your heart and lungs stronger. If you have a chronic condition, like heart disease, ask your doctor to provide some guidelines on the safest, most effective forms of exercise for your condition.

3. Start small

The Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines recommend at least two and a half hours of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week. While this number may seem like a lot at first, it can be accumulated in short intervals like a 10-minute walk after each meal. If you have not been active for a while, start at a pace that’s comfortable and gradually increase the intensity and duration of exercise as your body adapts.

4. Find a friend

Implementing regular physical activity becomes much easier if you get active with a friend. This kind of social support helps to reinforce your motivation while building your energy and enthusiasm.

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