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Heart Disease, Stroke and Physical Activity

What is physical activity?

Physical activity is big muscle movement produced by the contraction of skeletal muscle; such movement substantially increases energy expenditure. Physical activity includes walking, jogging, rowing, stair climbing, yard work, hiking, dancing, swimming, gardening, housework, jumping rope, bicycling, bowling and many other sports.

Why should I be physically active?

Regular physical activity reduces a person's chances of dying of coronary heart disease, the nation's leading cause of death, and decreases the risk for stroke, colon cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure. It also helps to control weight; contributes to healthy bones, muscles and joints; reduces falls among older adults; helps to relieve the pain of arthritis; reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression; and is associated with fewer hospitalizations, physician visits and medications. Physical activity need not be strenuous to be beneficial; people of all ages benefit from participating in regular, moderate-intensity physical activity, such as 30 minutes of brisk walking most days of the week. These minutes may be accumulated during the day, for example, three 10 - minute sessions of physical activity or two 15 - minute sessions. However, 30 - 45 minutes of continuous exercise most days of the week is an ideal schedule.

How do I start a physical activity program?

Experts advise people with chronic diseases, such as a heart condition, arthritis, diabetes or high blood pressure, to talk to their doctor about what types and amounts of activity are appropriate, before beginning a new physical activity program. Symptoms of particular importance to evaluate include chest pain (especially chest pain that is brought on by exertion), loss of balance (particularly if it leads to falls) dizziness and passing out (loss of consciousness).

There are 1440 minutes in every day; try to schedule 30 - 45 of them for physical activity. For many persons, before or after work or meals is often a good time to cycle, walk or play. Think about your weekly or daily schedule and look for or make opportunities to be more active. Every little bit helps.

What activity would be best for you? The one that you will do on a regular basis. Consider the following suggestions:

  • Gradually build up the time spent doing the activity by adding a minute or two every few days until you can comfortably perform a minimum recommended amount of activity or slowly increase the intensity of the activity or both.

  • As the minimum amount becomes easier, gradually increase either the length of time you perform an activity or increase the intensity of the activity or both.

What can I do to be more active?

  • Walk, cycle, jog, skate, etc., to work, school, the store or place of worship.

  • Park the car farther away from your destination.

  • Get on or off the bus several blocks away from your final destination.

  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator.

  • Play with children or pets. Everybody wins.

  • If you find it is too difficult to be active after work, try before work.

  • Take fitness breaks--walking or doing desk exercises--instead of taking cigarette or coffee breaks.

  • Perform gardening or home repair activities.

  • Avoid labor-saving devices, for example, turn off the self-propelled option on your lawn mower or vacuum cleaner.

  • Encourage a group to take regular Saturday morning walks.

  • Walk while doing errands.

  • Wash and wax a car for 45-60 minutes.

  • Wash windows or floors for 45-60 minutes.

  • Garden for 30-45 minutes.

  • Rake leaves for 30 minutes.

  • Take a break to walk the stairs for 15 minutes.

  • Dance fast (social) for 30 minutes.

  • Jump rope for 15 minutes.

  • Play basketball (shoot baskets) for 30 minutes.

  • Walk around while you are on the phone.

  • Limit TV remote control time.


U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Nutrition and Physical Activity

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
301-592-8573 or 800-575-9355

"La Enfermedad del Corazón, el Derrame Cerebral y la Actividad Física"
July 2007


Warning Signs

Heart Attack
  • Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of the chest that lasts for more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach
  • Shortness of breath along with, or before, chest discomfort
  • Cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness

For Women

As with men, women’s most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, and back or jaw pain.


  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
  • Sudden, severe headache with no known cause
Call 911if you have any of these symptoms or if you see someone else experiencing these warning signs. Treatment is more effective if given quickly. Every minute counts!

Who is at Risk?

Can I Reduce My Risk?























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