Untitled Document
Excercise and NutritionWellnessHeart DiseaseHeart SurgeryAsk the NursePDf Health LibraryGlossaryLinks
About WHFPrograms & Events

Intro to Exercise

Cardiovascular disease is a serious health threat. Nearly 5 million Americans suffer from it and each gender is equally at risk. Cardiovascular disease has killed more women then men every year since 1984 and is the #1 cause of death for women age 35 and older.

One of the safest and most effective ways to reduce your risk and improve your cardiovascular fitness is through aerobic exercise. Unfortunately, 70% of American women don't exercise regularly and inactivity nearly doubles a person's risk for heart disease, ranking it among the leading risk factors. The American Heart Association reports that regular physical activity is as important for heart health as the other three major lifestyle factors: quitting smoking, lowering blood cholesterol, and controlling blood pressure.

The Best Type of Exercise

Regular aerobic activity (also called endurance exercise) is best. Studies have shown that as little as 30 minutes a day of moderately vigorous aerobic activity, such as walking, cycling, or swimming significantly reduces a person's risk of heart disease. Best of all, exercise need not be extremely vigorous to be beneficial to your health.

Cardiovascular Health

Regular aerobic physical activity reduces the risk of developing or dying from Cardiovascular disease. Aerobic exercise improves cardiovascular health and helps control several disorders such as high blood pressure and cholesterol that increase your risk of heart attack and stroke. Activities such as walking, cycling, and swimming “stress” the muscles, bones, and joints (the physiological systems that produces movement), the heart, blood vessels and lungs, and the other systems responsible for oxygen delivery and energy production. These systems respond to the stress of exercise by becoming stronger and healthier.

With aerobic exercise, individuals with high blood pressure often see some reduction in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Blood sugar regulation improves, thus decreasing risk for Type II Diabetes or improving blood sugar control for people already diagnosed with diabetes. Exercise helps raise healthy HDL cholesterol, and helps lower blood triglycerides.

Positive Body Image

Some individuals, mostly women but some men too, spend a great deal of time and energy worrying about their physical shape and size. Chronic body dissatisfaction can be exhausting and demoralizing. It can also escalate into eating disorders and depression. If you need to lose weight, focus on improving your lifestyle rather than attaining a specific weight goal. A healthy lifestyle includes regular exercise which burns calories and helps reduce excess body fat, especially when combined with a nutritious, low fat diet. For example, an hour of brisk walking burns about 350 calories. Once your metabolic rate increases, you will continue to burn calories even after you've finished exercising. Regular exercise helps reduce the amount of fat stored inside the abdomen area. Excess fat is this location increases the risk for diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.

Mental Well Being

Many studies support the connection between regular physical activity and psychosocial well being. Exercise helps prevent and treat depression, improve perceptions of self efficiency and may even improve memory and problem-solving ability. Exercise helps relieve stress and improves quality of life.

Therapeutic Modality for Chronic Disease

Many of the health problems that become more common with age, such as arthritis, osteoporosis, insomnia, and diabetes, respond favorably to exercise. It has been said that exercise will certainly add life to your years.

Getting Started

To make your workouts as low-risk as possible, use the following guidelines:

  1. Ask your doctor if you need an exercise stress test, or whether you should follow any special exercise guidelines.
  2. Exercise regularly. Exercise is much safer for people who exercise routinely. To maximize the benefits of any aerobic exercise, you must sustain an activity for at least 20-45 minutes at each session. If you are just beginning exercise, start with a 10 minute workout and gradually add two minutes a week until you reach your goal.
  3. A mild to moderate exercise intensity is safer than a more vigorous workout. A safe intensity of exercise can be obtained by advancing your heart rate to a certain point called the “target heart rate zone”. Calculate your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220. Your target heart rate is 60-75% of your maximum heart rate. This formula cannot be utilized if you are taking certain cardiac medications. Consult your health care provider for your target heart rate parameters. In order to determine your heart rate, you must take your pulse. Taking your pulse: Using your middle and index fingers, locate your pulse on the thumb side of your wrist. Press lightly. Count your pulse for 10 seconds starting with zero. Multiply by 6 (go to Pulse Check for a tutorial picture guide on how to do a pulse check). Never stop your activity completely to take your pulse. Keep moving at a slower pace.
  4. Warm-up and cool-down. A slow but steady building of excessive intensity during a warm up allows the cardiovascular system to adjust to the increasing demands of exercise, and a good cool down helps it adjust back to resting level.
  5. Included in your exercise routine should be performing strength training exercises 2-3 times a week for a minimum of 20 minutes. Muscles and joints become stronger, daily activities feel easier and balance improves. In addition, many experts believe that strength training can help women effectively manage osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, and preserve muscle tissue. Muscle tissue is more metabolically active than fat tissue (i.e., it will burn more calories). By maintaining a higher amount of muscle tissue, women will maintain higher metabolic rates and maintain their optimal body weights.
  6. Listen to your body and heed warning signs of cardiovascular disease, such a chest pain or pressure, abnormal heart rhythms or dizziness. While these symptoms are often caused by something other than heart disease, it is best to be safe and check them out.
  7. Exercise for the right reasons: To be healthy and feel good. Find activities that are convenient and fun and make them a regular part of your lifestyle.

Keep An Exercise Log.

Below is a sample Exercise Log for self-monitoring your program.
My Target Heart Rate Range is:________

Date Type of Exercise Total Minutes Heart Rate Comments

This Exercise page was contributed by Kathleen B.Williamson, MS, RN, C, Coordinator of Cardiopulmonary Fitness and Rehabilitation Services at Capital Health System in Trenton, NJ.

Diet and Exercise Log  |  Exercising Safely  |  An Exercise Calendar  |  Strength Training  |  Starting a Walking Program  |  Stretching Exercises  |  Relaxation Exercises  |  Living with Mindfulness  |  Intro to Exercise  |  Yoga

Back to top

Disclaimer | Donate Now | Contact Us | Site Map | Store

1999-2000; updates: 2002, 2004, 2005, 2007 Women's Heart Foundation, Inc. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use prohibited. The information contained in this Women's Heart Foundation (WHF) Web site is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment, and WHF recommends consultation with your doctor or health care professional.