8 Easy Steps to Start Exercising for a Healthy Heart

February 28, 2018

It’s no secret exercise is good for you. We know it can protect us from heart disease by lowering blood pressure and cholesterol. It can help with depression and sleep apnea too.

Even though we know we should exercise, sometimes it’s difficult to commit the time and effort. The good news is it’s never too late to start.

Dr. Khaled Awad with Mercy Clinic Heart and Vascular has eight easy steps to begin a heart-healthy exercise program.

  1. Choose an activity that makes you happy. What is it you like to do? Maybe you prefer a group dance class at the gym, working out with a friend or trainer, or walking on the treadmill. Maybe you like working out at home, following a yoga video or taking a spin around the neighborhood on your bike. Whatever it is, you’ll be more likely to do it if you really enjoy it.

  2. Start small. Ideally, you’ll want to get about 2.5 hours of moderate exercise (like brisk walking) each week. Set small goals for yourself, and slowly build up to 2.5 hours. Remember, any physical activity is better than nothing! After your body starts adjusting, you’ll find it easier to exercise longer and harder.

  3. Follow a well-rounded regimen. To get the maximum benefit from exercise, do both aerobic activity (also known as cardio) and strength training. Cardio raises your heart rate and makes you breathe harder. If you can’t carry on a conversation with someone while you’re exercising, you’re pushing yourself too far. Incorporate strength training with free weights or resistance bands two or three times a week.

  4. Warm up and cool down. Warming up can prevent injuries, so stretch beforehand. Cooling down is just as important because it helps your body get back to normal. After your workout, take time for more stretching or light walking.

  5. Stay hydrated. If you aren’t drinking enough fluids, especially water, your body won’t be able to keep up. Keep a water bottle handy during workouts, and take short water breaks when you need to. Staying hydrated will also help your body recover and be ready for your next workout.

  6. Eat a balanced diet. Your body needs all of the food groups to keep its energy up. Carbohydrates benefit your muscles before exercise, protein helps your muscles recover from a hard workout, and eating healthy fats can give you more energy. Remember: everything in moderation.

  7. Stick to your routine. Research shows if you make exercise a healthy habit, you’re more likely to follow through. Making a schedule or exercising at the same time each day might help too.

  8. Celebrate success. You’ve worked really hard, and it’s important to reward yourself along the way. When you accomplish one of your goals, treat yourself. Maybe it’s time to buy that new pair of athletic shoes you’ve been eyeing.

Before starting a new exercise program, it’s important to talk to your doctor and develop a plan together. Depending on your health history, your doctor may want to order tests to find out what level of activity your heart can handle.

If you experience heart palpitations, chest pain, dizziness or lightheadedness during a workout, stop exercising and rest. If the symptoms don’t go away, call 911.

Stories of Survival at Mercy


Mercy, named one of the top five large U.S. health systems in 2017 and 2016 by Truven, an IBM Watson Health company, serves millions annually. Mercy includes more than 40 acute care and specialty (heart, children’s, orthopedic and rehab) hospitals, 800 physician practices and outpatient facilities, 44,000 co-workers and 2,100 Mercy Clinic physicians in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. Mercy also has clinics, outpatient services and outreach ministries in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. In addition, Mercy's IT division, Mercy Technology Services, supply chain organization, ROi, and Mercy Virtual commercially serve providers and patients in more than 20 states coast to coast.