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Heart health: the benefits of exercise

So why's exercise so important?

The heart, like any other muscle in the body, benefits from a good workout. Researchers have proven time and time again that, combined with the right nutrition, exercise helps maintain a healthy weight, lowers cholesterol levels and thereby reduces the chances of developing high blood pressure and, ultimately, coronary heart disease.

What's the big deal if I don't do enough?

Sadly, your typical couch potato has double the chance of suffering a heart attack than their sportier counterparts.

What type of exercise counts?

It's aerobic exercise that gives your heart a solid workout. That's any kind of activity that increases the heart rate, makes you breathe faster and your heart work harder.

How much is enough?

For adults, Department of Health guidelines recommend 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise a week – or 75 minutes of intensive aerobic exercise. This should be combined with muscle-strengthening exercises, such as lifting weights or doing push-ups and pull-ups, twice a week.

What's the difference between moderate and intensive exercise?

Moderate-level activities count as cycling, volleyball, doubles tennis or even brisk walking. For intensive activities think running, mountain biking, football or singles tennis.

What about if you're not a fan of the gym?

We rate the Couch to 5K running programme from the NHS, with free podcasts to download from iTunes. Or why not look for a five-a-side football league or mountain-biking trail in your area?

How do I maintain my motivation?

The holy grail is finding a sport or activity that you genuinely enjoy. Then set yourself a weekly goal and slowly raise the bar as fitness levels improve. Keep challenging yourself. Some people perform best when they have something to aim for, like a half-marathon or a charity fundraiser.

Find out more

Get to grips with cardiovascular health by exploring benenden health's Heart Hub. For further information about healthy hearts and exercise, visit the British Heart Foundation or NHS Choices.

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