Don't Sweat It: Exercise Doesn't Have to Be Hard

Don't Sweat It: Exercise Doesn't Have to Be Hard

If the mere thought of exercise makes you moan and groan, take heart. You are not sentenced to sweating out the rest of your days in a gym.

In truth, your heart is so fond of exercise that it almost doesn't matter how hard, how long, or how often you do it—as long as you do it! Simply doing physical activity for 20 minutes daily is enough to make a difference in your heart—that's 20 minutes of sustained activity that leads to your being slightly out of breath, or enough for you to sweat consistently during that time.

And the reward? You could cut your risk of heart disease as much as 30 to 50 percent by simply walking regularly or doing some other form of moderate-effort exercise.

Getting the ball rolling
If you're ready to get moving (check with your doctor first, especially if you have a medical condition, such as angina, or have never exercised), we've got some tips on how you can ease into a heart-healthy exercise routine.

1. Keep it simple
Lace up those walking shoes. What could be easier? And, in fact, walking just a few extra minutes a day can help lower your "bad" (LDL) cholesterol, raise your "good" (HDL) cholesterol, and decrease inflammation. And besides keeping your ticker in top shape, walking has the highest compliance rate of any exercise, which means there's an excellent chance you'll stick with it. Your goal is to eventually walk 30 minutes a day, but if you can't walk for this time period all at once, break up the half-hour span into shorter, more frequent jaunts of 10 minutes apiece.

2. Make excuses
Your day is probably filled with exercise opportunities that you just don't notice. Instead of finding an excuse not to exercise, make everything in your day an excuse for getting active. Gotta talk to a coworker? Head down the hall instead of e-mailing. Need to talk on the phone? Tap your toes while you do it. Waiting in line? Do some isometric exercises, like tensing and relaxing your glutes. Even a low-key household chore can be turned into a great workout. Check out these tips for turning everyday tasks into real exercise.

3. Go for balance
You want to build both stamina and muscle. That means not only doing cardiovascular exercises -- the kind that make you breathe a little harder and get your heart rate up—but also doing strength-building exercises. And polish it all off with a little stretching. No gym membership? No problem. Try this workout that uses your own body as the gym.

4. Love it
Okay, "love" is a pretty strong word. But if you don't at least enjoy what you're doing, the chance that you will stick with it long term may be slim. So, first off: Kick the words "arduous," "painful," and "dull" out of your workout vocabulary, and open up the door to something livelier instead. It might be dancing in your living room, tending a vegetable garden in your yard, roller-skating down the block every day or walking with a loved one each morning. And when an activity starts feeling old, try something different. The more you mix it up, the more your body will reap the rewards.

Bottom line: It's easier than you think to get the exercise you need in order to reduce your heart-disease risk factors. And the bonus is that you'll be lowering your odds of other health conditions, such as stroke, cancer and diabetes, at the same time. Make an effort now and, before you know it, you'll have an exercise habit you won't want to give up!

Check out these 10 simple posture tips that make exercise better—from experts Mehmet C. Oz, MD, and Michael F. Roizen, MD.

Medically reviewed in April 2019.

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