How Much Exercise Do You Need?



While exercise plays an important role for maintaining good health, one question that my patients commonly ask is how much exercise they need to reap cardiovascular benefits.  It turns out that you do not need to run marathons or engage in rigorous activities to derive the advantages.  What is most important is to be active; walking is arguably the easiest and most available activity to keep your heart young and healthy while limiting wear-and-tear of your joints (knees and hips).

Listed below are several useful tips related to physical activity that I recommend to my patients interested in keeping their hearts young (and keeping them young at heart).

  1. Aim to walk approximately 5 miles a day:  Keep track of your daily activities using a pedometer or similar tracking device (iphones have a built-in “health app” that automatically tracks your daily activities).  Every 2,000 steps equals 1mile; 10,000 steps is equivalent to 5 miles.
  2. Walking burns calories: If you weigh between 100-200 pounds, you can expect to burn 250-500 calories simply by walking 5 miles each day.  Because 3500 calories is equal to 1 pound, adding 5 miles a day will result in weight loss (provided of course that you don’t increase food intake).
  3. Aim for a walking rate of 3-5 miles per hour (mph):  When it comes to heart health, the sweet spot is walking at a “brisk” rate of 3 to 5 mph.  If you are walking on a treadmill, start off with a 5-10 minute warmup period (2-3 mph), then engage in the higher walking rate for 20-30 minutes followed by a 5-10 minute cool down period.
  4. Arise and stretch every 20-30 minutes at work: If you have a sedentary job where you are assigned to a desk/computer, stand and stretch at least twice each hour.
  5. Build in light weight toning and stretching exercises:  A healthy physical activity regimen should incorporate light weights and stretching to stabilize and improve balance & coordination in order to lower fall risk.  Engaging in aerobic activities and weight toning exercises, lowers cardiovascular risk by 20-30%.  If you have not participated but wish to begin such an exercise regimen, make sure to speak with your health care professional to ensure that it is safe for you.Michael Miller, MD is Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland USA.  His most recent book is    “Heal Your Heart: The Positive Emotions Prescription to Prevent & Reverse Heart Disease“. 

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