Skip to Content

NorthShore’s online source for timely health and wellness news, inspiring patient stories and tips to lead a healthy life.

Healthy You

Top 3 heart-healthy exercises

Thursday, September 28, 2023 12:17 PM

By NorthShore – Edward-Elmhurst Health

When you push yourself physically and force your heart and lungs to work overtime, it makes your whole body stronger.

This is why regular exercise is a crucial component of heart health. The bouts of exertion make it easier for your heart to pump blood through your body, which can lower blood pressure and cholesterol, improve your circulation and lower your risk of heart disease.

How much exercise is needed to see these benefits? For most adults, it means 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise like brisk walking, or 75 minutes of high-intensity exercise like running, each week, in addition to two weekly sessions of strength training.

heart healthGetting started

First, figure out what moderate-intensity and high-intensity mean for you, based on your age.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the target heart rate for moderate-intensity exercise should be between 64 and 76 percent of your maximum heart rate. High-intensity exercise should put you at a target heart rate between 77 and 93 percent of your maximum heart rate.

To find your maximum heart rate, subtract your age from 220. Then multiply that number by .64, .76, .77 or .93.

For example, a 49-year-old person would have a maximum heart rate of 171 beats per minute (bpm). Their target heart rate for moderate-intensity exercise would be between 109-129 bpm, and between 131-159 bpm.

During exercise, stop and find your pulse on your wrist. Count your pulse for 60 seconds (or for 30 seconds and multiply by 2) to find your heart rate.

Next, block out some time to exercise. If you aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week, that’s only about 21 minutes per day.

Consistency is key. Make exercise a habit.

Types of heart-healthy exercise

  1. Cardiovascular. The first type of exercise that typically comes to mind when people think of heart health is cardio. They’re not wrong. Cardiovascular exercise is a great way to strengthen your heart. Cardio exercise can include a wide variety of things, from walking and hiking to tennis or biking. Finding an activity you enjoy will make it easier to establish a habit.

    If you’re new to exercise, start with shorter periods of time (10-30 minutes) as many days as possible at a light to moderate pace until endurance begins to improve. Exercise such as walking, swimming or a stationary bike are great options for beginners.

    Once you’re able to perform cardio training for 3-5 days per week, the duration can last anywhere from 30-60 minutes per bout and intensity can vary from workout to workout. It all depends on what your goal is and how much time you have each day to devote to your health.

  2. Strength training. You might be surprised to learn that lifting weights less than one hour per week can lower your risk of hypertension, stroke and heart attack. The American Heart Association recommends strength training at least twice per week, with a minimum of two days of rest in between each session. Strength training doesn’t have to mean body building in a gym. It can be push-ups and squats, or exercises at home with hand weights.

  3. Stretching. Stretching not only helps you feel better before and after exercise, it improves your flexibility and can even help reduce stiffness in arteries and increase blood flow. Aim to stretch 2-3 times per week, and before and after exercise. Stretching can help prevent injuries, improve back pain, and can be a relaxing, meditative activity.

Now that you’re ready to incorporate heart-health exercises into your daily routine, just remember, exercise of any kind is cumulative, so you can work out as little as 10 minutes at a time, 2-3 times throughout the day and it counts toward what is recommended.

Before you begin any new exercise plan, talk with your doctor about the best way to incorporate cardiovascular activity into your lifestyle. Not only can your doctor help establish a plan that safely and gradually increases your capacity for cardiovascular exercise, but he or she can also establish baselines for your blood pressure, resting heart rate and cholesterol that will allow you to track your success.


From prevention to rehabilitation, the Wellness Center at Northwest Community Hospital provides an integrated approach to health and wellness through fitness and nutrition. Reshape your fitness routine at the Wellness Center.

Your heart is in good hands when you choose us for cardiovascular care. Learn more about our high-quality heart care.