February 21st, 2012
09:13 AM ET

Small strides you should take for your heart

Let's face it – life is busy. You've got calls to make, e-mails to send and meetings to get to. But what about appointments with yourself that you've been meaning to make?

"As I say to many of my patients, if you don't find time for exercise, you will have to find time for disease," Dr. Nanette Wenger tells CNN.  She's  a spokesperson for the American Heart Association (AHA) and  a cardiologist at the Emory University School of Medicine.

February is American Heart Month, when the AHA and other organizations hope to spread awareness about the dangers of an unhealthy lifestyle. The statistics haven't changed: Cardiovascular disease is still the leading killer of men and women in the United States and worldwide.

"The key to reducing this threat is prevention, and among the major preventive interventions– smoking cessation, control of cholesterol, control of blood pressure, control of weight and physical activity– physical activity can often be the cornerstone," Wenger said.

"It will help in weight maintenance, blood pressure control and cholesterol control."

You've probably heard this message before, but may find yourself still making excuses for not exercising regularly: Lack of finances, lack of access to a gym, or various other responsibilities that leave you short on time.

But the people who get the most benefit from increased physical activity may surprise you.

"It's not the runner who tells me she's running 20 miles a week and she's gonna start doing 30 miles a week, said Barry Franklin, Ph.D., who is the director of Cardiac Rehabilitation and Exercise Laboratories at William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan, and an AHA spokesperson.

"It's the sedentary person who starts doing some exercise – even if it's 10, 15, 20 minutes two, three days a week.”

The American Heart Association hopes to help you start walking by identifying free, safe paths across the United States. They have also recognized companies who are "Fit-Friendly" and go above and beyond helping their employees develop healthier workplace environments.

The steps are small, but the results can be huge. Some of these companies have:

– Organized a challenge in the stairwell to get employees to take the stairs
– Organized events like volleyball games and group hikes
– Held meetings with chair exercises at the beginning
– Held on-site farmers markets or cooking demonstrations
– Swapped out regular items in vending machines with healthier options
– Had employees ride a tricycle around a plant instead of an electric or battery-powered golf cart

The AHA also has some tips on what you can do to incorporate more exercise into your day:

– Watch television from the treadmill or bicycle
– Take the stairs instead of the elevator
– Park far away from the building you work in
– If you use public transportation, get off a stop early and walk a little longer to work
– Walk down the hallway while brainstorming with a colleague
– Use the farthest printer on your floor or another
– Use the restroom on another floor and climb the stairs
– Visit a colleague in person rather than e-mail or calling them
– Use a cycle machine under your desk

Taking these steps is important because lack of activity can have dire consequences. 

“Over a period of time, there is good research to say that people who are inactive have up to a 50% higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease,” Franklin said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity, like brisk walking, each week for most adults. 

And you don't have to do it all at once. You'll reap the benefits even if you break these 2 1/2 hours of weekly exercise into 10-minute chunks of time - as long as the your workout is at least moderate to vigorous during these small intervals.

soundoff (125 Responses)
  1. JimPurdy.blogspot.com

    "Visit a colleague in person rather than e-mail or calling them."

    Actually see a real person? Face to face? How quaint. That's so 20th Century.

    February 21, 2012 at 09:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. ES71

    Actually, the only thing that works for me is an onsite gym with a shower. It is not such a big expense to the company, but the benefit to employees is huge.
    Without shower facilities you can't really excericse because you'll stink and look unprofessional the rest of the day. And if you don't sweat at all , it simplyu means you are not excercising hard enough and it is just a "fell good " thing but without much benfit otherwise.

    February 21, 2012 at 11:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Primal

    Walk most every day at least a mile. Do some sprints for about 10 minutes every 7 to 10 days. About every 3 days do some pushups and pullups.

    That's it, that's all you need for the exercise part. No ridiculous cardio, no lifting to exhaustion.

    February 21, 2012 at 12:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. mabel

    Most of us only have a half-hour lunch, so even if there's an onsite gym with shower, you don't have time to change, exercise, shower, and change back into work clothes. The best thing employers could do to get their employees to exercise is to let them take an extra half hour on their lunch three times a week during the workday to exercise. Many employers are located within only a few minutes from a gym, so they wouldn't even have to provide one. Sure it would cost money in the short-term (because – gasp! – you'd be getting 90 minutes less work out of them every week) but in the long term you'd probably be paying less for their health care costs and see them using less sick leave. You'd just have to find a way to ensure that they were really clocking in at a gym and not saying they were going to the gym and actually heading to the corner cafe to websurf.

    February 21, 2012 at 15:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Mom in NJ

    This are all great ideas but some are difficult to apply. On site gym with a shower? Nice but what about the insurance liability? I love the tricycle in the plant idea. If for no other reason than to give us all a good laugh which is also heart healthy. Most of us employers are very small companies, 20 or less and find these ideas so tempting to help our employees. I just might actually try some of these ideas out at our next meeting and see if there is some interest.

    February 21, 2012 at 17:09 | Report abuse | Reply
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  7. ksmahoney

    Drink plenty of water throughout the day and then use the bathroom on a different floor.
    Sara from http://www.losingtogether.com

    February 21, 2012 at 19:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Charlotte

    I keep a pair of small hand weights under my desk. Whenever i'm waiting for a computer code to run, or if I'm on a call and can put the phone on 'speakerphone' then my hands are free and I can spend a few minutes with the weights.

    February 21, 2012 at 19:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Slimjim

    I run 4 straight days, (Monday- Thursday) and monitor my runs with a stopwatch. I try to run as fast as I can without stopping. I run 2 3/4 miles. My best time was 18:11, (felt great that day) and, my worst time was 29:+. (felt deathly sick that day, but believed that this was the best medication to take) I have been running the same route for 25 years and my b.m.i. is 21.9

    February 21, 2012 at 20:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. glioblastomarunner

    Squeeze fitness into each workday, just for a stress reliever and if you are a caregiver of a spouse who is very ill, squeeze a workout into that workday...I had quit distance running until my wifes illness and when i started up again, it really helped..
    Whether it's for the stress of a common workday or for changing a spouses diaper who used to run a household, getting into a running routine (my suggestion) is just the ticket..
    The endorphin high is just that and when you just can't believe you are seeing the things that you see on a daily basis, that high really helps you keep going!

    February 21, 2012 at 22:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. RunnerGirl70

    I get up early to run. So I lose 30 minutes of sleep each day during the week, but I will gain years on my life by doing so.

    February 22, 2012 at 07:34 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Maelius

      Good for you, I swim vigorously for an hour before work. Great way to start your day and does give you the rest of the day to make excuses for why you can't exercise.

      February 22, 2012 at 09:44 | Report abuse |
    • Youssef

      hello.i'm sorry for this interfer,but i want to say something,don't focus in adding years by doing this,cause you're not running for adding years,but to be healthy and with great shpe all your days,either you live long or less..i'm sorry again,especially about my bad english .see yea

      June 25, 2017 at 22:53 | Report abuse |
  12. GrannyFitness

    I qualify for Senior discounts...and have a sedentary job. I started going to the gym a few months ago...and do the classes with all sorts of fun/crazy exercises (to the best of my ability). My resting heart rate is down 20 beats per minute, my muscle tone and bulk have improved, and I have amazed myself at how good I feel after I have spent an hour sweating my guts out. Yes, sometimes I watch the clock and wondering why it's not moving....but I am probably as fit as I have ever been in my life.

    February 22, 2012 at 08:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Jon

    Exercise may be the "cornerstone", but smoking is the number one controllable
    risk factor for heart disease death. Fact: http://www.medpagetoday.com/Cardiology/CHF/28480

    Yet you give about 100 times more space and emphasis to exercise.


    February 22, 2012 at 11:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. just wrong

    how to lose 30 lbs..besides changing what one eats?

    February 22, 2012 at 13:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Sallie

    Stairwells? Walk in stairwells? You folks obviously don't work in the big city, where stairwells are places you get attacked, and you can only re-enter into a floor at every fifth flight.
    A lot of these suggestions (All employees sign up for a 5K benefit!! Let's all ride tricycles!!) are plain cruel to folks who just can't do them. In fact, some of the people who can't (arthritis, heart trouble, lung trouble) are folks who are hanging on for dear life to their employment, because they're over 50, could never afford health insurance in the free market (if anybody would sell it to them), and know their chances of getting re-hired at a desk job if fired are basically zero.

    February 22, 2012 at 19:30 | Report abuse | Reply
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    Thanks a lot Dr. I live in Tehran a poluted city.we have less clean days during the year, but I do use to use all of those clean days doing exersize in parks near my home.Also I mostly do walking instead of driving car.

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