Fitness Articles

The Heart Smart Workout Plan

Your Exercise Plan for a Healthier Heart

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Pop quiz: Can you name the most important muscle in your body? Nope, it's not your abs, hamstrings or triceps. It's your heart!

The human heart is an amazing muscle, capable of pumping about five quarts of blood throughout the body every minute—that's approximately 2,000 gallons of blood each day! In fact, the average heart beats about 100,000 times each day, too, which is why it's so important to have a strong and healthy heart.

And just like you can exercise to build strength in your skeletal muscles, you can—and should—also train your heart to become stronger, healthier and more efficient at doing its job. The right workout plan is like strength-training for your heart, which helps it pump more blood with less effort.

The Facts
According to the American Heart Association (AHA) nearly 70% of Americans don't get enough exercise, yet inactivity is a major risk factor for developing coronary artery disease (CAD). CAD is caused by deposits of fatty substances, cholesterol, calcium and other substances in the inner lining of the arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle. This build-up makes the arteries narrowed or blocked, and when oxygen-rich blood can't reach the heart, the result is chest pain or a heart attack. Over time, CAD can weaken the heart muscle and lead to heart failure.

While CAD is the most common type of heart disease and the leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women, the good news is that lifestyle changes—like exercise!—can help prevent or treat CAD in most people.

How to Exercise for a Healthy Heart
Fortunately, it doesn't take hours in the gym to reap the heart-healthy benefits of exercise. As little as 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, such as walking, most days of the week can substantially reduce your risk of heart disease, enhance your mental well-being, help you manage your weight, and improve your blood pressure and blood lipid (cholesterol) profiles.

While previous recommendations have focused mainly on cardio (aerobic) conditioning for heart health, new guidelines developed by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the AHA also take into account higher levels of intensity and the benefits that strength training offers your heart, too. These recommendations are for healthy adults under the age of 65 who want to improve heart health, prevent heart disease, and increase overall well-being.

Cardio (aerobic) exercise guidelines: Perform moderately-intense cardio exercise for 30 minutes a day, five days a week. If weight-loss is your goal as well, bump this number up to 60 to 90 minutes at a moderate intensity. Moderate intensity is defined by ACSM as a target heart rate range of 55%-59% of your maximum heart rate—about at the pace where you break a sweat but are still able to carry a conversation.
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About The Author

Jennipher Walters Jennipher Walters
Jenn is the CEO and co-founder of the healthy living websites, and A certified personal trainer, health coach and group exercise instructor, she also holds an MA in health journalism and is the author of The Fit Bottomed Girls Anti-Diet book (Random House, 2014).

See all of Jenn's articles.

Member Comments

  • I am on medications to keep my heart rate very slow so heart rate guidelines don't work for me - perceived exertion works much better in my case. I have started my exercise program very slowly but the doctor is very pleased with my progress. I do enjoy trying some of the Spark Videos! - 5/19/2016 9:55:46 AM
  • This is what I was looking for...tks. - 3/24/2016 9:41:35 PM
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    /389373/96477 - 7/29/2015 11:12:40 AM
  • ACEBES1751

    any suggestion on what level exercise I can do , I have a triple A and it is at 4.6 CM - 5/16/2015 10:02:36 AM
  • What if you can't walk for 30 min. due to other physical limitations such as back problems? There is no mention of breaking up the 30 min. into 10 or 15 min. workouts. You make it sound as though you must do a heavy 20 min. or a 30 min. workout to be effective. That just discourages those of us who can't, and we wonder then why even bother. - 5/14/2015 10:36:34 AM
  • good article - 7/21/2014 7:28:25 AM
  • Timely article. I dislike strength training, and was looking for a way begin. Knowing I only need to do it 2X a week is very encouraging. - 5/18/2013 12:28:34 AM
  • I really enjoyed this article. I always wanted to know what it meant to be in my target heart zone when I have bronchical asthma, high blood pressure. Now I know how to gage it by my breathing. Thank you. - 7/21/2012 4:41:41 PM
  • This article is very informative. I really appreciate this information because I have learnt a lot. - 5/17/2012 8:46:46 PM
  • This is the best article I've read so far regarding heart healthy exercise! - 5/17/2012 9:19:38 AM
    I couldn't save the article either. Where's the "save" button on this article? I think it is a perfect article to save for future reference. - 5/17/2012 9:04:26 AM
    Great article, but for some reason I can't save it? Kind of annoying. - 4/27/2012 12:06:30 PM
  • This was a well-conceived and presented article. Thanks for providing specifics targeted to multiple levels of fitness. - 12/18/2011 6:22:02 PM
  • Great article Jennipher. People need to be guided towards the answers. You do a wonderful job.

    Thanks for sharing, and

    stay strong,
    Anne Pringle Burnell - 7/7/2011 7:47:06 AM
  • Thanks for this great article! Especially helpful is the "Putting it all together" section--I am ready to try the next level!! - 5/19/2011 9:17:37 AM

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