Move away from heart disease with exercise

Nicholas E. Walker, MD, has one piece of advice for those wanting to keep their hearts healthy: Move.

Nicholas E. Walker, MD walking up the stairs

“It is now well known that being sedentary is a significant risk factor for developing heart disease,” says Walker, a cardiologist with University of Iowa Hospital & Clinics Heart and Vascular Center. “Being physically inactive is felt to carry a heart risk similar to ‘traditional’ risk factors like smoking, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Physical inactivity is felt to contribute to roughly 10 percent of premature deaths in America.  And unfortunately, currently less than a quarter of adult Americans get the recommended amount of physical activity per week.”

Walker says adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise (walking, swimming, biking, yard work), or at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercising (jogging, fast biking, HIIT – high intensity interval training – exercises), or a combination of both, per week, which works out to about 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise five days per week.  

“Many people find the idea of 30 minutes of exercise difficult, due to a lack of free time,” Walker says. “While a 30-minute block is a great way to get the activity in, the good news is that shorter amounts of exercise will add up. And studies show that any increase in exercise by sedentary people will convey health benefits. 

“So just move - find opportunities during your day to sneak activity in,” Walker advises. “Honestly, simple things add up. Personally, I try to always take the stairs instead of the elevator. I find that I climb 8-10 flights of stairs on an average work day. I park as far away from the door at work or the store as I can and walk in. I try at least twice per week to take my dogs for a walk before or after work.  

“I still make sure to get 30 or more solid minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise in whenever possible but work and family life may limit this to 3-4 days per week. But with the additional activity that I “sneak in,” I find that I can make the 150-minute goal,” Walker says.

Last reviewed: 
February 2019

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