Chances are, you already know that physical activity is good for you. “Sure,” you may say, “when I get out and move around, I know it helps me to feel and look better.” But you may not realize just how important regular physical activity is to your health. According to the U.S. Surgeon General’s Report on Physical Activity and Health, inactive people are nearly twice as likely to develop heart disease as those who are more active. This is true even if you have no other conditions or habits that increase your risk for heart disease.
Lack of physical activity also leads to more visits to the doctor, more hospitalizations and more use of medicines for a variety of illnesses. The good news is that physical activity can protect your heart in a number of important ways. Moreover, to get benefits, you don’t have to run a marathon. Regular activity — something as simple as a brisk, 30-minute walk each day — can help you to reduce your risk of heart disease.
Heart disease occurs when the arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle become hardened and narrowed, due to a buildup of plaque on the arteries’ inner walls. Plaque is an accumulation of fat, cholesterol and other substances. As plaque continues to build up in the arteries, blood flow to the heart is reduced.
Generally, the more vigorously you engage in an activity, and the more time you spend doing it, the more health benefits you will receive. However, moderate-intensity activities can also be excellent fitness choices. When done briskly for 30 minutes or longer on most days of the week, moderate exercise can help to condition your heart and lungs and reduce your risk of heart disease.
There are many ways to spend your 30 minutes of activity. Get creative! Invite a friend for a walk. Go jogging with your pup. Take a dance class. Play tag with your kids. Head to a local indoor pool and enjoy some lap swimming or an aquatic exercise class. If you live in an area with snow, go cross-country skiing in a local park.
Of course, you’ll want to first talk with your doctor about starting an exercise program. Then grab your spouse, a friend or your kids and and start walking (or dancing or swimming…) your way to a stronger heart!