How to get started with heart healthy exercise habits
May 10, 2022

How to get started with heart healthy exercise habits

Rachel Wadsley, PhD

Heart disease is the leading cause of death of men and women in the United States. Lack of regular exercise accounts for almost half of those deaths! But that’s good news. You can start making heart healthy changes today. Commit to increasing your physical activity and reducing your risk factors for heart disease with the tips below. 

Why exercise matters for heart health

Adding movement to your week has many benefits that can indirectly and directly improve heart health. The type of exercise you choose is up to you. 

Regular exercise decreases:

  • Risk of artery damage
  • Risk of heart attack
  • Risk of stroke
  • Risk of falls or injury
  • Bad cholesterol levels (LDL)
  • Blood pressure
  • Blood sugar
  • Stress
  • Tension
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

Regular exercise improves:

  • Good cholesterol levels (HDL)
  • Mental wellbeing
  • Self-image
  • Confidence
  • Coordination
  • Balance
  • Speed of recovery
  • Circulation

Types of exercise you can do

The Department of Health and Human Services Physical Activity Guidelines recommend 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week or 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise. But getting started with an exercise program doesn't have to be complicated or overwhelming. There's no need to jump all in or give up because you can't exercise that long or don't feel like it fits into your day. 

Maryland Medical Center found that people living a sedentary lifestyle have a 35% increased risk of blood pressure and heart health issues. So any amount of movement makes a difference. Choose a starting point that feels doable to you. This could be 10-15 minutes of exercise 2-3 times a week (or 5 minutes). 


Most of us walk every day (even if it's just to get the mail). But don't let its simplicity fool you. Walking is a heart healthy exercise! A quick lap around the block or office is enough to get the ball rolling.

An optimal long-term walking goal is 90 minutes a week. Break that up as needed to fit your schedule. But, if you want to maximize the health benefits of walking, plan for 30 minutes of walking three days per week. 

Walking is:

  • Easier than running or other forms of workouts
  • Low impact
  • An easy way to get your heart rate up
  • Simple to make easier or challenging 

Weight training and strength training

To reduce your risk of heart disease, the American College of Sports Medicine suggests doing strength training twice a week with at least one day off between workouts.

If you're just getting started with exercise or don't have access to equipment, bodyweight exercises are a great place to start. You can do them at home, at the gym, in the office, or on vacation. Check out our body weight exercises for beginners blog post with a sample exercise plan which is great for heart health! 

Strength training:

  • Reduces weight
  • Creates lean muscle
  • Raises good cholesterol (HDL)
  • Reduces bad cholesterol (LDL)

Weight training includes:

Aerobic Exercise

Aerobic exercises are broken down into intensity categories called moderate and vigorous. Use the talking test to determine which intensity you’re performing. If you can easily talk, you're exercising at a moderate pace. If you have to pause between words or stop to catch your breath, it's vigorous movement. 

Aerobic exercises get your heart pumping. This helps improve your circulation, strengthen heart muscle, and develop lean muscles in your body. This improves general health, significantly improves blood pressure, and helps the heart function better. 

Examples of aerobic exercises:

  • Fast walking
  • Hiking
  • Jogging
  • Dancing
  • Team sports
  • Biking
  • Skiing
  • Climbing stairs


While stretching indirectly improves heart health, it's important. There are two types of stretching, dynamic and static. In dynamic poses, you’re physically moving for a couple of minutes. This includes things like walking in place or arm circles. Static stretches are poses you simply hold for 10-30 seconds. Think toe touches or calf stretches. 

Use both types of stretches before and after any exercise to help warm up and cool down your body. You can even use stretching by itself as a form of gentle heart healthy exercise. This is a great tip for days you can't exercise but want to keep up the habit of moving your body. 


  • Builds musculoskeletal health
  • Reduces joint pain and cramping
  • Helps you do other exercises
  • Improves stability (prevent falls)
  • Reduces the risk of injuries from other exercises

How can you get started?

Below are tips and tricks to help you feel comfortable and confident creating a heart healthy workout plan. 

Dress for success

Having the right tools for the job makes any task more manageable. Wearing the right sneakers is incredibly important to prevent injury. Avoid slip-ons and choose shoes with a good arch support and treads. Your clothes should feel good to you, whether that's athletic wear or a tee shirt and shorts. 

Choose something you enjoy

Listen up, because this is probably the most important tip! If you don't enjoy what you're doing, it's easy to procrastinate, not be fully present, or give up. As you've seen above, exercise doesn't mean long sessions in the gym and isn't limited to weight lifting or group exercise classes. Choosing something you like to do will increase your motivation and enjoyment. A fitness trainer can help you create a plan that gets you excited (or at least neutral) about moving. 

Accountability partner

Tackling a new routine on your own can be lonely or boring. Losing steam and making excuses (even valid ones) is easy to do. Look for support in your circle of family and friends. Or get a trainer who can help you stay on track with a personalized plan and reminder system. Trainwell's habit coaches are certified personal trainers and certified in nutrition coaching. Take our coach matching quiz and get started today. 

Pace yourself and know your limits

Before starting any exercise or nutrition plan, talk with your health care provider. Make sure they feel it's safe for you to move forward and how much exercise (or what intensity) is safe for you. If you feel out of breath or dizzy, it's time to take a break. Do NOT push yourself too hard. Not only can this be harmful to your health but it can undo your progress.

Set doable goals

How often have you started something new and dived in full steam ahead only to have your energy or motivation sizzle out? Just thinking about New Year's resolutions makes me cringe. The secret sauce is starting small!!!! It might not look as exciting or feel like it will take too long. But if going slow gets you to stick with and create positive change, isn't it a worthwhile plan? Instead of starting with 30 minutes of walking, try 5 minutes. Next week make it 6 or 7 minutes. Small and doable is the name of the game. 

Make it a habit

You've got the right clothes, an accountability partner, picked something that appeals to you, and have a doable goal in mind. Now the magic happens. Think about how you can perform this habit regularly. It's much easier to tie in a new habit with a current one (or phase out an old one). This is called habit stacking. Let's play with the walking example. Maybe you can walk in place while brushing your teeth. It only takes a couple of minutes (if you're brushing right), and boom, you've added more movement into your day before it even started. Learn how to use habit stacking here. 

Track your progress

Are you someone who feels a sense of pleasure from checking something off your to-do list or seeing a badge pop up for completing a task? Gamify your habits by tracking them and get that much deserved endorphin boost. Another benefit of tracking is seeing patterns. Clearly seeing when you hit snags and what habits you're more consistent with helps you find places where you need to modify your routines. 

Wrap up

Congratulations. You now have the information you need to improve your heart health with exercise. If you'd like to have a custom fitness plan that fits perfectly into your life, try trainwell (formerly CoPilot) for free for 14 days. You'll get training from a real person from the comfort of your own home along with a habit tracking system.


Start your free trainwell trial today!!!

Written by Rachel Wadsley, PhD

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