By: Linda McKay

Exercise is good for everyone – and it is essential to having a healthy heart.

The American Heart Association’s recommendation of 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise five times a week leads to a healthier, more satisfying life. Exercising regularly has been proven to reduce stress, anxiety and depression, and lower cholesterol levels, blood sugar and blood pressure – all risk factors for heart disease.

In the United States, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. The most common type of heart disease is coronary artery disease (also known as coronary heart disease), which occurs when the blood vessels that supply the heart narrow or become blocked.

Exercise, combined with eating a healthy, well-balanced diet, is one of the best defenses against heart disease. Not only will exercise improve quality of life, but it also helps people live longer.

Exercises for a healthy heart

Living a sedentary, or inactive, lifestyle is a major risk factor for developing heart disease. While finding time or the will to exercise sounds like a lot, for most people there are easy, inexpensive and safe ways to incorporate physical activity into your daily routine.

One of the most effective exercises to improve heart health is walking. If done daily, walking will help significantly lower an individual’s risk of developing heart disease.

Walking is a simple and practical exercise for most. It does not require special equipment and it can easily be fit into busy schedules.

In order to achieve the maximum benefits from walking, make sure you walk fast enough to raise your heart rate and still be able to hold a conversation.  

It’s important to ease into any exercise regimen. Start with five to 10 minutes a day, then work your way up to 30 minutes a day. Keep in mind, the recommended 30 minutes a day of physical activity can be broken into three 10-minute exercise sessions.

Preparing for exercising is important.  Whether you are walking around your neighborhood or an area park, or working out in a gym, always begin with a lower intensity warm-up for five minutes – like walking slowly. Follow the warm-up period with stretching, and then start your workout. A lower intensity cool down is also recommended at the end of your exercise period.

Other exercises for a healthy heart include jogging, bicycling, dancing, swimming, and aerobics. It’s always important to discuss your exercise routine with your physician.

Cardiac Rehab at Jackson Memorial Hospital

If you already have a heart problem, the cardiac rehabilitation program at Jackson Memorial Hospital serves people recovering from heart surgery or a heart-related illness, such as angina, heart failure, or heart attack. The program also benefits individuals who have undergone heart transplant, heart-bypass surgery, heart-valve surgery, or heart-artery stenting.

This specialized program helps individuals change lifestyle habits, speed up the recovery process, reduce the chance of future heart problems, and improve overall health, including physical, mental, and social well-being.

Patients in Jackson’s cardiac rehab program receive monitored exercise to improve cardiovascular fitness, education, and counseling by an experienced medical team that includes a cardiologist, an advanced registered nurse practitioner, and a physical therapist.  Additionally, the program offers classes and personal assistance to quit smoking and stay smoke-free.  A nutritionist is also available to help patients create a healthy eating plan.

For more heart health articles during our Heart Month series, click here.

To read our Hearts of Jackson patient stories, click here.

Linda McKay, MPH, PT, is a physical therapist at Jackson Memorial Hospital who specializes in cardiac rehabilitation. For more information on Jackson’s cardiac rehabilitation services, visit
Linda McKay