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Getting Started

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By: Karen Yontz Center Staff

Staying active by exercising regularly is an important part of a heart-healthy lifestyle. But starting too fast or exercising in the wrong ways can actually be harmful. The following are a few guidelines that will help you get off on the right foot when it comes to exercise and fitness:

  1. Talk to your doctor prior to beginning an exercise program if any of the following apply to you:
    • You have heart disease or have 2 or more risk factors for developing heart disease.
    • You have been living a sedentary (inactive) lifestyle for more than a year.
    • You are over the age of 45 years and currently inactive.
    • You have diabetes.
    • You are taking blood pressure medication.
    • Your body mass index is 30 or higher.
    • You are pregnant.
    • You have a medical condition that may affect your ability to exercise such as arthritis or chronic back pain.
  2. Build up intensity and duration gradually:
    • Aim to work your way up to 20 – 45 minutes of aerobic exercise most days of the week. If you are just beginning to exercise, start with a 10-minute workout and gradually add two minutes per week until you reach your goal.
    • Aim for a workout intensity within your "target heart rate zone". Calculate your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220. Your target heart rate is 60 – 75% of your maximum heart rate; however, this formula cannot be utilized if you do not have typical heart rate response. This is because beta blockers slow your heart rate, which can prevent the increase in heart rate that typically occurs with exercise. For anyone with an atypical heart rate response, consider adding a Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale. RPE is a means of measuring exercise intensity for people who do not have typical heart rate responses.
  3. Warm-up and cool-down:
    • A gradual building of intensity during a warm up allows the cardiovascular system to adjust to the increasing demands of exercise, and a gradual decline in exercise intensity helps the cardiovascular system adjust back to resting level.
  4. Include strength training and flexibility exercises:
    • Perform strength training exercises 2 – 3 times a week for a minimum of 20 minutes.
    • Muscle tissue is more metabolically active than fat tissue (i.e. it will burn more calories); therefore having a higher amount of muscle tissue may help you maintain your optimal body weight.
  5. Make sure you are well hydrated and drink water throughout the day:
    • Drinking water during exercise is essential if you want to get the most out of your workout and feel good while you’re doing it.
  6. Listen to your body:
    • If you experience chest pain or pressure, abnormal heart rhythms, or dizziness, stop exercising immediately and call for help.
    • Follow up by also reporting these symptoms to your healthcare provider. While these symptoms are often caused by something other than heart disease, it is best to be safe.
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