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Heart Smart Living
Heart Smart Living

Cardiologist, author, and heart health expert Dr. Sarah Samaan offers advice on how to live a heart smart life.

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Best Practices for a Healthy Heart Step 4: Get a Move On

My new book, Best Practices for a Healthy Heart: How to Stop Heart Disease Before or After it Starts, will be released in June by The Experiment publishing house. In the book, I outline seven important steps that will help you to achieve optimum heart health and provide you with powerful protection against stroke, dementia, and even cancer.

We’ve gone through Step One (Know Your Numbers), Step Two (Eat Well to Live Better), and Step Three (Learn How to Take a Break without Checking Out). Step Four is all about exercise and the active lifestyle.

Exercise is powerful medicine. By exercising 30 minutes five days per week (or 2.5 hours each week), you will cut your risk for heart attack and stroke by about 30 percent, compared to someone who does no exercise at all. You’ll also reduce your likelihood of dementia. There is nothing on the market that works as well as putting on your tennies and heading out the door.

It’s no surprise that people who exercise tend to be less depressed and sleep better. Many men might be more motivated to exercise if they realized that it reduces incidence of erectile dysfunction by about 30 percent. And for women, regular exercise is one of the most effective non-hormonal ways to deal with the effects of menopause.

Aerobic exercise is critical for heart health, but weight lifting and resistance training can also make a difference. One study even found improvement in the health of nursing home patients in their 80’s who engaged in some light resistance training.

Yoga and Pilates also have important benefits for the heart, body and mind, including reduction of blood pressure and calming of the nervous system.

If you’re new to exercise, check in with your doctor before beginning an exercise program. People with very high blood pressure and certain heart conditions may need to avoid strenuous exertion.

Find a routine, or better yet, a combination of options, that you enjoy and can do consistently. As a cardiologist, I have to restrain myself from rolling my eyes when a patient tells me that the weather is preventing her from working out. Although enjoying the outdoors is one of the perks of exercise, there are plenty of ways to get a workout inside. For many people, the camaraderie of an exercise class helps to sustain the motivation needed to get up and out the door. Of course our schedules don’t always coincide with the hours at the gym or yoga studio. If you can swing it, get yourself an exercise bike or treadmill so that you can always work in a little exercise at home no matter the time or the temperature. Or try an exercise DVD or video game workout like Wii Fit or Kinect. Whatever you choose, make your goals realistic, enjoyable, and achievable.

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About the Author


Dr. Samaan is an acclaimed cardiologist, writer, and heart health educator.