Q: How important is it to get regular exercise?
A: A regular exercise program benefits your health and may lessen the risk of a number of diseases, including heart disease. The heart is a muscle that needs exercise to stay in shape. Physical inactivity is a key risk factor for heart disease.

Adding just a little exercise to your daily routine also reduces the risk of high blood pressure, osteoporosis, certain cancers, depression, anxiety and stress. It enhances your overall well-being.
Regular exercise, even walking briskly for as little as 20 to 30 minutes a day, totaling at least three hours of exercise a week, provides the following benefits:

  • Improves circulation
  • Improves muscle tone
  • Improves overall body fitness
  • Helps reduce obesity
  • May help lower risk of age-related disorders

Q: How do you get started and what's a good exercise regimen?
A: Individuals should consult with their physician about safe exercise levels for their current health situation. Then, chose an exercise you enjoy that works with your lifestyle, and one that involves large muscle groups such as the legs and arms. Experts recommend a combination of aerobic and strength-training activities for maximum benefit.

Start off exercising a minimum of three days a week, working up to five to seven days a week. Try to exercise at least 30 minutes per day, and intensify the workout as you progress.

Q: How do I make exercise part of my daily routine?
A: Some simple steps include the following:

  • Use the stairs instead of the elevator
  • Walk instead of driving if you're doing errands
  • Take a 15-minute "walk break" from work to help your heart and relieve stress
  • Find a friend to exercise with you. This provides an incentive on the days you don't want to exercise.
  • Vary your exercise routine
  • Set goals and reward yourself for reaching them.

Q: How does regular exercise help keep LDL cholesterol levels in check?
A: Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or the "bad" cholesterol we hear about is most dangerous when it appears as small, compact particles. Even moderate exercise like walking or gardening can help keep LDL cholesterol large and "fluffy." That's a step in the right direction.

Q: What constitutes a healthy diet? Do you have to be vegetarian to be heart healthy?
A: Make heart healthy eating part of your daily routine. Eat a variety of foods you like in moderate amounts, choosing from all food groups, such as complex carbohydrates, proteins, fruits, vegetables, dairy and minimal fats and sugars.

Eliminating or reducing red meat, refined sugar and flours, and caffeine can help point you in the right direction toward more healthy eating. Adding fiber also boosts healthy eating and has been proven to help lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels. Consider reducing your sodium intake to no more than 3,000 mg. daily. And don't forget to drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day to help your body's digestive functions and to curb your appetite.

Q: What percent of daily calories should come from fat?
A: A normal diet should consist of less than 30 percent of calories from fat. The percentage is even less—20 percent—for people working to prevent heart disease, and even lower-10 percent-for people working to reverse heart disease.

Eat a diet of foods rich in fruit, vegetables, fish and healthy oils, and match your calorie intake to physical activity. Limit your salt intake and avoid concentrated sweets and saturated fats, as well as trans fats. Exercise for at least 30 minutes a day, most days of the week.

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