Start a Smart Heart Exercise Program

Nearly 70 percent of Americans don’t get enough exercise, says the American Heart Association. Yet, inactivity remains one of the major risk factors for heart disease. Exercise is essential to heart health, but getting motivated is hard.

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Not sure how to exercise best for your health? Read our guide.

Need some reasons to make exercise a regular habit?

  • Exercise, along with good nutrition, can help increase HDL or good cholesterol and bring down LDL or bad cholesterol. In some cases, patients who’ve started an exercise program can stop taking cholesterol-lowering medications.
  • Regular exercise can reduce your risk of death from heart disease by nearly 30 percent!
  • Exercise can help control and prevent type II diabetes.
  • Exercise burns calories, which helps you reduce your weight. By increasing muscle mass, you can also burn more calories at rest and on the days you don’t exercise!


According to Dr. Hugh Calkins, moderate exercise is best, from a cardiovascular health standpoint. In fact, marathon runners often do more harm than good to their hearts.

“It is well known that high level athletes are at increased risk for developing atrial fibrillation, especially when you consider that athletes are unlikely to have many of the other risk factors for atrial fibrillation, such as hypertension and obesity,” says Dr. Calkins.

Instead, Dr. Calkins recommends that people exercise at least three times weekly for approximately 30 minutes.

Newcomers also want to make sure they exercise with enough intensity. A good rule of thumb?  Dr. Calkins says you want your heart rate to increase from 60 to 80 percent of your maximal heart rate. A person’s maximal heart rate can be estimated by subtracting their age from 220.

If you’re concerned about hitting that target, a heart monitor can measure whether you’re making the most of your workout.

Some other points to keep in mind?

Vary your program. Plan to try a few different exercises – dancing, kick-boxing, weights. The ideas is to mix up your daily routines to not only keep them interesting, but to also hit different muscle groups.

Schedule time. Finding the time is often the hardest part about sticking to a regular exercise regime. Write down time in your calendar to keep yourself free to focus on your health.

Some is better than none. As mentioned above, time is often the biggest reason people don’t exercise. Don’t have a half hour? Even 10 or 15 minutes is going to pay off – more than doing nothing!




Dr. Hugh Calkins is President of the Heart Rhythm Society, Nicholas J. Fortuin M.D. Professor of Cardiology and Professor of Medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Dr. Calkins is also the Director of the Clinical Electrophysiology Laboratory, the Arrhythmia Service, the Atrial Fibrillation Center, and the Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Dysplasia Program at the Johns Hopkins Hospital.