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Give your heart a workout

Exercise - heart workout; CAD prevention - workout; Cardiovascular disease prevention - workout

Being physically active is one of the best things you can do for your heart. Regular exercise helps reduce your risk for heart disease and adds years to your life.

You do not need to spend hours in the gym every day to see benefits. Moving your body just 30 minutes a day is enough to improve your heart health.

If you have diabetes or heart disease, talk to your health care provider before starting an exercise program.

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The Benefits of Exercise

Exercise helps your heart in several ways.

The Best Activities for Your Heart

When done properly, any kind of exercise can be good for your body. But aerobic exercise is the best type for your heart. Aerobic exercise is any activity that uses the large muscles in your body and gets your heart beating faster.

To benefit your heart, experts recommend getting at least 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise on most days. This is about 2.5 hours a week. You can also break this up into a few 10- or 15-minute sessions each day. Moderate aerobic exercises include:

For even more heart benefits, consider adding some vigorous activity to your week. If all your exercise is vigorous, aim to get at least 75 minutes each week. Vigorous aerobic exercises include:

Track the Intensity of Your Workout

You can tell if your workout is moderate or vigorous by paying attention to how your body feels while you exercise.

The Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion Scale ranks exertion from 6 to 20. During exercise, choose the number that best describes how hard you are working.

A moderate level of exercise is usually from 12 to 14. Vigorous exercise is usually a 15 or higher. You can adjust the level of your workout by slowing down or speeding up.

Track Your Target Heart Rate

To see the direct effects of exercise on your heart, track your target heart rate, which is about 50% to 85% of your maximum heart rate, based on your age. This range gives your heart the most benefit.

To find your target heart rate:

Find your age and target heart rate:

To find your approximate maximum heart rate, subtract your age from 220.

For moderate intensity exercise, your target heart rate should be 50% to 70% of your maximum heart rate.

For vigorous exercise, your target heart rate should be 70% to 85% of your maximum heart rate.

When you first start exercising, aim for the lower number for your age range. As you get fitter, you can slowly work towards the higher number.

If your heart rate is lower than your target heart rate, you may not be exercising hard enough to benefit your heart. If your heart rate is higher than your target, you may be exercising too hard.

Some blood pressure medicines can lower your target heart rate. If you take medicine for high blood pressure, ask your doctor what range is healthy for you.

When to Call the Doctor

If it's been a while since you were active, you should check with your provider before starting any new activity. Also, to make sure you are healthy enough for exercise, check with your provider if you have:


American Heart Association website. Target heart rates. Updated January 4, 2015. Accessed April 8, 2020.

Arnett DK, Blumenthal RS, Albert MA, et al. 2019 ACC/AHA Guideline on the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease: a report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Clinical Practice Guidelines. Circulation. 2019;140(11):e596-e646. PMID: 30879355

Borg GA. Psychophysical bases of perceived exertion. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1982;14(5):377-381. PMID: 7154893

Buchner DM, Kraus WE. Physical activity. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 13.

Thompson PD, Baggish AL. Exercise and sports cardiology. In: Zipes DP, Libby P, Bonow RO, Mann DL, Tomaselli GF, Braunwald E, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 11th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 53.


Review Date: 4/9/2020  

Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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