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Exercise is amazing; it decreases the risk of breast, colon and prostate cancers, plummets heart attack and stroke risk, improves memory and mood [1] and can even improve longevity by protecting telomeres - the tiny protective caps on your DNA that help prevent cellular death.[2] The natural question, then is what can we do to maximize these heart healthy gains? Read on!



Exercise can be aerobic, resistance or flexibility training. [3] Moderate and vigorous aerobics are associated with longer telomere length- and resultant DNA protection- compared to light exercise or strength training.[2] Moderate aerobics decrease cholesterol levels and obesity while vigorous aerobics improve cardiovascular health and glucose tolerance.[4] Adding resistance to endurance training further improves cardiovascular fitness.[5] Stretching relaxes the muscles [3] and improves recovery after vigorous exercise. Its best to incorporate all types of exercise to improve benefits and keep you engaged and excited about workouts.



The American Heart Association recommends at least 150-300 minutes of moderate or 75-150 minutes of vigorous aerobics per week (or a combination) and 2 days of moderate to vigorous resistance training.[3,6] However, any amount of exercise is beneficial; compared to inactivity, exercising less than recommended is still associated with 20% decrease in mortality. Exercise benefit may plateau at 3-5 times the recommendations.[7]



One metabolic equivalent (MET) is the body’s oxygen consumption while sitting quietly. Moderate activity is 4-6 METs and vigorous activity is greater than 7 METs.1 A simple way to determine your METs is by jumping on a cardiovascular machine (like a treadmill) at the gym. There is an online estimator of METs,[8] however it ignores differences in body mass, age or sex which affects METs. Remember, moderate or vigorous aerobics will leave you sweaty and increase your heart and breathing rate, so that it is difficult to converse. If you can carry on a conversation, you are not doing vigorous activity. 



Most asymptomatic people (If you can walk a quarter mile or climb a flight of stairs without chest pain or shortness of breath you are asymptomatic) who don’t have multiple major risk factors - a history of heart attack or stroke, high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes, or a parent or sibling with a heart attack before age 60 can begin exercise.[1] If you are symptomatic or have any risk factors, you should talk to your doctor about exercise. Still, you should be able to do light activity (3 METs or less).



Physical activity is vital to getting the most out of life. Be flexible in terms of time, length and type of exercise. Use tools like METs to determine your level of activity and you can be in the great outdoors, at home or the gym and feel confident that you are getting the most out of your workout. The world is your playground!

- Staff Contributor


  1. Peterson, Douglas. The benefits and risks of exercise. Aronson M, O’Connor F and Sullivan DJ (ed).  UpToDate. Waltham, MA: UpToDate Inc. (Accessed Sept 19. 2017). 

  2. Saßenroth D et al. Sports and Exercise at Different Ages and Leukocyte Telomere Length in Later Life--Data from the Berlin Aging Study II (BASE-II).PLoS One. 2015 Dec 2;10(12):e0142131.

  3. American Health Association. Physical Activity. (Accessed Sept. 19, 2017)

  4. Nybo L et al. High-intensity training versus traditional exercise interventions for promoting health. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2010 Oct;42(10):1951-8.

  5. Strasser B, Siebert U, Schobersberger W. Resistance training in the treatment of the metabolic syndrome: a systematic review and meta-analysis of the effect of resistance training on metabolic clustering in patients with abnormal glucose metabolism. Sports Med. 2010;40(5):397.

  6. US Department of Health and Human Services. 2008 physical activity guidelines for Americans. Hyattsville, MD: US Department of Health and Human Services 2008. (Accessed Sept. 19, 2017).

  7. Arem H et al. Leisure time physical activity and mortality: a detailed pooled analysis of the dose-response relationship. JAMA Intern Med. 2015 Jun;175(6):959-67. 

  8. Ainsworth BE,et al. The Compendium of Physical Activities Tracking Guide. Healthy Lifestyles Research Center, College of Nursing & Health Innovation, Arizona State University. (Accessed Sept. 19, 2017).

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