Office of Women's Health

Facts About Women's Wellness-Exercise

What are the benefits of physical activity?

Regular physical activity that is performed on most days of the week reduces the risk of developing or dying from some of the leading causes of death in the United States. Regular physical activity improves health in the following ways:

How do you get started?

It is recommended that you talk to your doctor before starting an exercise program. This is especially important if you have not been physically active for a while, if you have health problems, or if you are pregnant or elderly.

Start out slowly. If you have been inactive for years, you cannot run a marathon after two weeks of running. Begin with a 10-minute period of light exercise or a brisk walk every day and gradually increase how long and the intensity of your exercise.

Sneak exercise into your day by:

How do you stick with it?

Here are some tips that will help you start and continue an exercise program:

Does physical activity affect heart disease?

Regular physical activity can help you to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. Being active also can help women maintain or lose weight. It also helps to control blood pressure, lessens a diabetic's need for insulin and boosts the level of “good” HDL-cholesterol.

I know that exercise is good for my heart health, but what kinds of activity are best?

Even low- to moderately-intensive activity, such as pleasure walking, stair climbing, gardening, yard work, moderate-to-heavy housework, dancing and home exercise, can help to lower the risk of heart disease. To get heart benefits from these activities, do one or more of them every day. More vigorous exercises improve the fitness of the heart and can lower heart disease risk even more. This kind of activity is called “aerobic” activity and includes such activities as walking, jogging, swimming and jumping rope. Any physical activity that you do briskly for at least 30 minutes also can strengthen your heart.

Do I need to get my doctor's permission before I begin an exercise program?

Most people do not need to see a doctor before they start a gradual, sensible program of physical exercise. However, do consult your doctor before you start or increase physical activity if you have heart trouble or have had a heart attack, or are taking medicine for high blood pressure or a heart condition. It is also a good idea if you are older than 50 years of age and are not used to energetic activity or if you have a family history of developing heart disease at a young age.

What type of exercise is appropriate for older women?

It is always a good idea to include stretching, strength-training, and aerobic or endurance exercise in your exercise routine. It is recommended to start your exercise slowly. You can begin all your exercise by a good stretching routine before engaging in other activity. This allows for your muscles and joints to be flexible and you are less likely to injure yourself when you do actually begin exercising. Aerobic exercises strengthen the heart and improve overall fitness by increasing the body’s ability to use oxygen. Swimming, walking and dancing are “low-impact” aerobic activities. Low-impact activities are less likely to stress your body by avoiding the muscle and joint pounding of more “high-impact” exercises like jogging and jumping rope. Weight-bearing exercises (walking, jogging, tennis) help to keep bones strong. The goal of physical activity is to improve health. Current recommendations for physical activity are to accumulate at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most days of the weeks. You can do this in smaller bouts that add up to 30 minutes a day to receive the health benefits. For example, three 10-minute bouts, two 15-minute bouts, or one 10-minute and one 20-minute bout of walking can meet the recommendation.

More information about exercise can be obtained by contacting:

Weight Control Information Network


National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute


Fitness and Nutrition

The National Women’s Health Information Center, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services