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Why is exercise or physical activity important?

Regular aerobic physical activity increases a person's capacity for exercise. It also plays a role in both primary and secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease. There is a relationship between physical inactivity and cardiovascular mortality.
Exercise can help control blood lipid abnormalities, diabetes and obesity. Aerobic exercise also has an independent, modest blood-pressure-lowering effect for certain groups of people with high blood pressure.

The results of pooled studies show that persons who modify their behavior after heart attack to include regular exercise have better rates of survival. Healthy persons - as well as many patients with cardiovascular disease - can improve their exercise performance with training.

How can physical activity or exercise help condition my body?

How can I improve my physical fitness?
Programs designed to improve physical fitness take into account frequency (how often), intensity (how hard), and time (how long), and provide the best conditioning.

The FIT Formula:
F = frequency (days per week)
I = intensity (how hard, e.g., easy, moderate, vigorous) or percent of heart rate
T = time (amount for each session or day)

American Heart Association Recommendation

For most healthy people:
For health benefits to the heart, lungs and circulation, perform any vigorous activity for at least 30 minutes, 3-4 days each week at 50-75 percent of maximum heart rate. Moderate physical activities for 30 minutes on most days provide some benefits. Physical activity need not be strenuous to bring health benefits. What is important is to include activity as part of the regular routine.

Activities that are especially beneficial when performed regularly include:

The training effects of such activities are most apparent at exercise intensities that exceed 50 percent of a person's exercise capacity (maximum heart rate). Adults who maintain a regular routine of physical activity of longer duration or greater intensity are likely to have greater benefits. However, physical activity should not be overdone, since too much exercise can result in injury.

What about lower-intensity activities?
For people who are not able to exercise vigorously or who are sedentary:
Scientific evidence also supports the notion that even moderate and low-intensity activities, when performed daily, can have some long-term health benefits. They help lower the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Such activities include:

What risk factors are reduced?
Exercise can also help reduce or eliminate some of these risk factors:

What are other benefits of exercise?

When should I consult my doctor?
Some people should consult their doctor before they start a vigorous exercise program. See your doctor if any of these apply to you:

If none of these is true for you, you can start on a gradual, sensible program of increased activity tailored to your needs. If you feel any of the physical symptoms listed above when you start your exercise program, contact your doctor right away. If one or more of the above is true for you, an exercise-stress test may be used to help plan an exercise program.

(This list was developed from several sources, particularly the Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire, British Columbia Ministry of Health, Department of National Health and Welfare, Canada, revised 1992.)

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