Fitness Articles

Heart-Healthy Benefits of Exercise

Your Body Benefits from Your Hard Work

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"Exercise improves your health." You hear it all the time, but what does that really mean? How much of a difference can exercise make in your life, and how much do you really need to do? You’ll be happy to know that you don’t need to spend countless hours in the gym to achieve the heart-health benefits of getting active. 

Lower Blood Pressure
  • A study by the National Institutes of Health showed that regular exercise (30+ minutes of moderate activity, 5+ days a week) reduced blood pressure in 75% of subjects who had high blood pressure. The reductions were approximately 10 mmHg for both systolic and diastolic blood pressures.
  • According to the American College of Sports Medicine, the blood pressure lowering effects of exercise can be observed as soon as one to three hours after a single 30- 45 minute workout! This response can linger for up to nine hours post-exercise. Permanent blood pressure changes can be seen as early as three weeks to three months after beginning an exercise program.
Improve Cholesterol Levels
  • A 2001 review involving patients with high cholesterol demonstrated a change in HDL (good cholesterol) and LDL (bad cholesterol) levels after a 12-week exercise program. On average, subjects experienced a 4.6% increase in HDL, a 5.0% decrease in LDL, and a 3.7% decrease in triglycerides.
  • Other studies show widespread improvements in cholesterol levels are related to the amount of activity and not the intensity of exercise. The more minutes you exercise per week, the more your cholesterol levels will improve, even if accompanied by a minimal weight change.
Prevent Type II Diabetes
  • The combination of physical activity and weight loss has a powerful effect on preventing the onset of Type II diabetes in high-risk individuals. In a recent study by the Diabetes Prevention Program, participants who exercised and lost excess weight had a 58% reduction in the onset of Type II diabetes over 2.8 years, compared to the control group.
Most of these health benefits can be achieved through moderate-intensity physical activity. Experts recommend at least 30 minutes, 5 days a week. Moderate-intensity activity causes a slightly increased rate of breathing and heart rate. It can be described as feeling "light" to "somewhat hard". 

There are easy ways to add this type of activity to your daily routine:
  • Park the car farther away from your destination.
  • Get on or off the bus several blocks away.
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator.
  • Take fitness breaks instead of cigarette or coffee breaks. Walk, stretch or do some office exercises.
  • Perform gardening, yard work, heavy house cleaning, or home-repair activities.
  • Avoid labor-saving devices; turn off the self-propel option on your lawn mower or vacuum cleaner, and hide all of your TV remotes.
  • Exercise while watching TV. For example, use hand weights, a stationary bike or treadmill, stretch, or perform body-weight exercises such as crunches, push ups and squats.
  • Keep a pair of comfortable walking or running shoes in your car and office. You'll be ready for activity wherever you go!
  • Walk while doing errands.
The good news is that it's never too late to start an active lifestyle. No matter how old you are, how unfit you feel, or how long you've been inactive, research shows that starting a more active lifestyle now—through consistent, moderate-intensity activity—can make you healthier and improve your quality of life.

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Member Comments

  • Great benefits of exercise!
  • Excellent article. I keep water, sneakers in the car for unscheduled exercise opportunities!
  • Great ideas for adding adtivity to your day to get that heart pumping.
  • Since returning to SP I have been meeting my goal of 30+ min. of active movement every day. My blood pressure has come down & I can't wait to see what it has done for my Cholesterol. Feeling great! I do half in walking & half in pedaling while watching TV.
  • My blood pressure is too low, 80/60 if I add salt it raises to 100/65,pharmacy said yesterday at heart health visit need to raise it to 120/80 immediately. When I go to the gym the top number does not go up at all but the bottom number does. I was told yesterday to eat lots of salty foods and add lots of salt to my diet to raise it up soon.This means my heart is trying to pump more and not getting anywhere. I was advised to only do light intensity exercise as I am at a extreme risk for heart attack or stroke and I have blood clots in my lungs from a problem with the arteries in my legs. My Dr. said it was a problem with veins,not so. My Dr. told me to continue to exercise at the gym. I was told yesterday if I continue I will get a heart attack or stroke at the gym. My good cholesterol is too low from eating too many low/fat no fat foods,so I need to eat more fat. My levels of bad fat is good,but not enough healthy fat for my organs and brain to function normal. I was advised to eat cheese daily to help raise my fat as well as walnuts,salmon,ol
    ive and canola oil.The oil I use anyway and also use margarine with no trans fat made with olive/canola oil combination. All other kinds of margarine with other oils are very bad for your health. So, you can have "too much of a good thing".
  • I keep wanting to take out my Dad's old push mower but I keep getting shot down!! Too bad the thing weighs a ton (not literally) and is mostly cast steel,
  • It is so good to refresh my memory through these articles after being away from Spark People for a couple years. Thank you for the research it takes to advise us.
  • great tips thanks love the workouts tips to do while watching TV i have now made it a habit yo parking away from the store when possible . weather and time of fay are considered .
  • This is a great column! Thanks.
  • FAITHY2000
    Hi new here, but love this article i. hope SP works for me as i see it has for so many
  • ANNETTELDAVIS
    I'd like citations for the info and research studies in this article. Could you please post the specific citations from the article. Thx!

About The Author

Jen Mueller Jen Mueller
Jen received her master's degree in health promotion and education from the University of Cincinnati. A mom and avid marathon runner, she is an ACE-certified personal trainer, health coach, medical exercise specialist and behavior change specialist. See all of Jen's articles.