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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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 a certified personal trainer, certified health coach and advanced health & fitness specialist. See all of Jen's articles.

Member Comments

  • This is a great column! Thanks. - 6/17/2014 7:08:08 AM
  • FAITHY2000
    Hi new here, but love this article i. hope SP works for me as i see it has for so many - 10/28/2013 9:10:37 PM
  • 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! - 8/18/2013 1:12:48 AM
  • BJMOLNAR
    Exercise definitely does my heart good, and my body and my spirit. - 5/6/2013 11:00:17 AM
  • What type of phone has a pedometer app? What is the name of the app? This is a very cool idea! - 2/5/2013 11:36:34 PM
  • This article is so right on! After many months of inactivity (a new job that was very stressful and sedentary), I suddenly started seeing a frightening trend in that my ankles would be horrifically swollen at the end of the day. It made me feel so OLD!!! (I am 47, but STILL!)

    I did three things: got back on track with SP, got back to drinking 8 glasses of water a day, and set my pedometer app on my phone to 6000 steps. Drinking the water made my bladder tell me to get up :) and I'd take the absolute LONGEST route I could to the bathroom -- down two floors -- and then take the LONGEST way back -- outside and around the building! Since Thanksgiving I've lost 15 pounds, and the swollen ankles are a thing of the past! Once I feel very comfortable with 6000 steps, I'll up it to 7000 with an ultimate goal of 10000 steps a day; I read somewhere that that is ideally what you want for optimal health. But I've seen GREAT results at just 6000 (about 2.6 miles total). Just walk! - 2/5/2013 7:56:21 PM
  • my doctor warned me at my last physical that i needed to watch my blood pressure. it was still normal but it was on the high side of normal and it wouldnt take much to get it out of the normal range. so i started working out every day doing something and not putting salt on my food since everything has enough salt. i just had my blood pressure tested last week and i was perfectly normal. right where i should be for my age and weight. my doctor asked what i did different and i told her and she told me to just keep it up and as i drop weight my blood pressure will go down even further. - 2/5/2013 3:25:51 PM
  • This article is so "right on!" After one year at Curves my blood pressure is down, my glucose is so improved I have moved from "diabetic" to "pre-diabetic" and I am off the cholesterol medication. Also had my best bone scan of my life! And lost 23 lbs.
    Yeah! - 2/5/2013 10:57:24 AM
  • Hi I am Alfonso Miranda, I have high blood presure and I would like to know what is the best exercise for people like me. - 1/31/2013 9:43:29 PM
  • Hi I'm fairly new to sp but wanted to say love advice and info given. Also is there a section to track BP - 1/14/2013 12:33:57 PM
  • Dragonracer56 you are a motivator!! Thanks for sharing and I hope you've joined out team at goal and maintaing!! Great people on our team who care and keep us where we want to be!!
    Keep up the good work!! : )
    ginny - 10/15/2012 12:47:32 PM
  • DRAGONRACER56
    hi to all of u. I am 56 years old i can honestly say since i have stepped up my activities this year I have lost 31 pounds since christmas. I have taken up training with the dragon boat team (two hours a week) and I work at least 5 to 6 days a week (5 to 6 hours a day)and I also walk 5kms a (48 mins) day.and I hike sometimes two to three times a week and ride my bike three to four times a week. I have watched my eating habits and I do not over eat and do not eat past 6pm. sometimes i enjoy a beer clamato after a walking in the evening. I eat alot of natural foods such as fruits and veggies and stayed away from potatoes and bread and sugars, except what comes from fruit and veggies.I will eat whole grain wraps stuffed with vegs and lean chicken that has the skin off and baked. stay away from fried food. i found that just stepping up your activities is the key to staying healthy and fit, anyone can do it,but they have to start out slow, go ask your doctor before starting any type of training. Stay safe and have fun and enjoy your life being active. - 8/24/2012 11:30:06 AM
  • My total cholesterol dropped 30 points since I started sparking 2 months ago! It's gotta be the healthy diet and exercise. Lord may I never go back! - 5/29/2012 8:50:48 AM
  • Oops! I can't read. Sorry about the question! Ignore! - 4/17/2012 12:47:14 PM
  • Hi all! I agree that moving is awesome for you, but I have high blood pressure and I get winded very easily and I'm getting light-headed a lot. I literally can't workout for 30 minutes (and I used to be able to do it 2 months ago!). What should I do? Btw I'm 37 y.o. - 4/17/2012 12:46:19 PM
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