The benefits of exercise

Being active and moving more are key to having a healthy heart. A great goal is aiming to be active in as many ways as possible throughout the day, and reduce the amount of time spent sitting for long periods.

Doing just 30 minutes of moderate physical activity a day, can help to reduce your risk of heart disease.

Along with healthy eating and not smoking, physical activity improves heart health by preventing heart disease as well as helping you to recover if you have had a heart event. For information on staying active with heart disease view our 'After your heart attack' section for people who have had a heart attack. 

Why should I be active?

Did you know that being physically inactive increases your risk of heart disease and stroke by 50%?

Your heart is a muscle and needs exercise to help keep it fit so that it can pump blood efficiently around your body. Without regular physical activity, the body slowly loses its strength, stamina and ability to function well.

Lifelong physical activity, such as a brisk walk for as little as 30 minutes a day, is important for:

  • Preventing heart disease
  • Lowering your risk of high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke
  • Helping to fight the battle to quit smoking
  • Aiding cardiac rehabilitation
  • Establishing good heart healthy habits in children
  • Building stronger immunity
  • Reducing blood pressure in people who already have high blood pressure
  • Helping to reduce stress, tension, depression and anxiety
  • Helping to control weight
  • Improving overall health and wellbeing, prolonging your optimal health.

For each hour of regular exercise you get, you’ll gain about two hours of additional life expectancy, even if you don’t start until middle age!

Whatever type of activity you choose to do, the more you move the better.

What type of activity is good for my heart?

Walking is a great option. Nearly everyone can do it, and all you need is a pair of shoes. You could go swimming, take exercise classes or play a sport, but physical activity also includes everyday things like gardening and climbing stairs.

Remember, any increase in physical activity will be good for your health. You’ll get added benefits by including activities that help strengthen muscles twice a week, such as exercising with weights, working with resistance bands, heavy gardening or carrying shopping.

You should aim to build up to a total of 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of moderate intensity activity each week. Moderate intensity activity will make you feel warmer, breathe harder and make your heart beat faster than usual, but you should still be able to carry on a conversation. The best way to tell if the exercise you are doing is working, is to take the talk test. 

Many health problems can be helped by regular physical activity, but if you do have a health problem, or have a condition that you are taking prescribed medication for, you should check the amount and type of activity that is suitable for you with your GP.

How do I get started?

It’s never too late to start. Everyone can benefit from moving more – whatever your age, size or physical condition. The good news is that inactive people that start to do moderate physical activity feel the biggest health benefits – your health risks will decrease as soon as you start to move!

Getting started is easier than you think. Changing a few daily habits can soon add up to a more active you. Be active in as many ways as possible every day. Every 10 minutes counts. And if you don’t think you can squeeze anything else into your day, see if you can reduce the time you spend sitting still and free up time to be active.

  • Start in small amounts
  • Find an activity that you enjoy doing
  • Ask family or a friend to join you
  • Set yourself a realistic target to do a little exercise each day
  • Gradually increase the amount you are doing. Go for a little longer or a little further
  • Build up to 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day.

What is the 'Talk Test'?

The talk test is a great way to work out if you are doing moderate exercise.

  • Moderate exercise means that you will feel your heart pumping harder, but you will still be comfortable enough to hold a conversation.
  • If you find you are too breathless to talk, then it's time to slow down. If you are able to sing or whistle, then step up the pace!

How do I stay safe while exercising?

  • If you are new to exercise or haven't exercised for some time, it is a good idea to talk to your doctor before starting an exercise programme 
  • Wear comfortable clothing and appropriate footwear
  • Warm up and cool down. When you begin your activity, begin slowly for the first few minutes and build up gradually. When coming to the end of your activity, take time to slow down
  • Stretch after your exercise. This will help you to avoid pain and stiffness in your joints and muscles. To find out about easy stretches visit ACC
  • Take the 'talk test'
  • Avoid exercising if you are feeling unwell
  • If you are taking medications for diabetes, talk to your doctor or nurse about the best time of day to exercise
  • Remember, it’s best to stop exercising if you feel any pain or discomfort.

Support to help get you moving more

There's lots of help and support available. Here are some suggestions to get you on your way:

  • Walking, running, cycling and swimming programmes: design your own or find a programme locally that you can join.
  • Sport NZ aims to get New Zealanders enjoying and excelling through sport and recreation. Sport NZ has a list of local Regional Sports Trusts that could help put you in touch with sports clubs, recreational activities or provide other support to help you get active.
  • Walking and running events like the Auckland Marathon and Half Marathon are great for motivating you to be more physically active. It is recommended that you prepare yourself for any major physical activity event to avoid injury, and ensure you enjoy the event. Various training programmes are available, including 12 week training programmes for all event distances for the Auckland Marathon.

Next steps to get moving:

  1. Aim to do at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week to help reduce your risk of heart disease.
  2. Remember any extra time you spend moving around and not sitting, is better than nothing!
  3. Ask your doctor or practice nurse about a Green Prescription. A Green Prescription gives you access to support and advice on increasing your physical activity.

Do you know if you're a healthy weight? Find out using our BMI Calculator.

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