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How Much Exercise Is Recommended For A Healthy Heart?

Most Americans actually don't know. So find out much you need to move each week.

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Exercise is one of the keys to preventing heart disease, the number one killer of both men and women in the United States. However, a Cleveland Clinic survey shows only 20 percent of Americans know how much exercise is recommended for a healthy heart. The survey also showed 40 percent of Americans are exercising less than that recommended amount—only about 2.5 hours per week of moderate aerobic exercise. The survey was conducted as part of Cleveland Clinic’s “Love Your Heart” consumer education campaign in celebration of American Heart Month.

Most commonly, people cited work obligations as the biggest factor preventing them from exercising more, followed by being too tired and obligations with family and friends. The survey found that men are considerably less likely than women to let things get in the way of their exercise routine, with more than one-quarter of them saying nothing prevents them from exercising.

The survey also revealed large misconceptions when it comes to exercise and heart conditions. Only one third of Americans knew that someone with heart disease needs to exercise the same amount as someone without heart disease.

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“While heart patients should certainly consult with their doctor before beginning a new program, they should be more worried about the effects of not exercising on their heart than exercising,” said Steve Nissen, M.D., chairman of Cardiovascular Medicine at Cleveland Clinic. “Nearly all people with heart disease, and without, should exercise. It improves blood flow, leads to lower blood pressure and will help you live longer.”

heart health

Additional survey findings include:

  • Weight: the biggest motivating factor. According to those who exercise weekly, 51 percent say that losing or maintaining weight is the number-one motivator. Only 32 percent of Americans say they exercise to benefit their hearts.
  • Calories: Americans don’t know how much to burn. Despite most Americans exercising for weight purposes, only 31 percent of those surveyed know they need to burn or cut out 500 calories from their diet to lose one pound a week.
  • Cardiac rehabilitation: benefits are known, though it’s underutilized. Most Americans realize that cardiac rehabilitation can reduce mortality rates from heart disease by about half. However, typically less than a third of patients prescribed cardiac rehab complete it. Cardiac rehab is a medically supervised program designed to improve health by identifying and reducing risk factors that lead to cardiovascular disease. It includes emphasis on appropriate exercise and diet for heart patients.
  • Testing: Who needs it? While it’s true that those with heart disease should talk to their doctor about starting an exercise program, most Americans don’t understand which patients actually need stress tests. Eighty-one percent of those surveyed incorrectly thought that someone with high cholesterol needs an exercise stress test before starting an exercise program.

Heart disease kills about one in four Americans, but many of these deaths could be prevented by simple lifestyle changes like exercising and improving diet,” Dr. Nissen said. “Americans know exercise is important, but most don’t realize just how far a little exercise can go—potentially reducing the risk of dying from heart disease by as much as 40 to 50 percent. It’s worth making time for it.”