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5 simple steps to cardiovascular fitness

Physical exercise is essential to cardiovascular health: Exercise makes the heart more efficient, decreases blood-fat levels and lowers blood pressure. What’s the best way to get started on an exercise program? Simply follow these five steps to fitness:

  1. If you’re currently inactive, are a smoker or have a history of heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes or another serious illness, check with your doctor before beginning an exercise program.
  2. Choose two or more aerobic activities, such as brisk walking, jogging, biking, swimming, cross-country skiing, “step aerobics,” or rowing, that you would like to do regularly. (Alternating activities will help you avoid boredom and injuries from over-use.) Decide where you’ll do each activity and plan to purchase or borrow equipment, or join a fitness center if needed.
  3. Plan to engage in moderate-intensity physical activity for at least 30 minutes a day, most days of the week. That’s the amount of physical activity health experts recommend to reduce the risk of chronic diseases, including high blood pressure and coronary artery disease. Make it 60 to 90 minutes if you need to lose weight or maintain weight loss.
  4. Calculate your maximum heart rate. How? Simply subtract your age from 220. For maximum cardiovascular benefit, your heart rate during exercise should be 50 to 75 percent of your maximum heart rate. This is called your target heart rate. (Your doctor may recommend a lower target heart rate if your medical history suggests caution.)
  5. Plan your program. Start with a warm-up period. Your warm-up should include slow walking to warm your muscles and stretching exercises to improve your flexibility.

Move into the aerobic portion of your routine gradually. Between one-third and halfway through the workout, check to see if you’ve reached your target heart rate by taking your pulse. Check your pulse again immediately after you stop exercising, then cool down by walking. Then stretch for five minutes while your muscles are warm and your joints are limber.

Moderate exercise can easily become a way of life. Just use a little creativity and common sense to help you stick to your program—then enjoy the benefits!