What's So Great About Cardio?

How much cardiovascular exercise you need to keep your heart healthy, and how to get it.
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A Healthy Heart

Cardiovascular disease (CVD), which includes diseases of the heart and blood vessels, such as stroke, is the leading cause of death in women, claiming nearly 500,000 lives a year. One in 10 women aged 45 to 64 and one in five women age 65 or older has some form of diagnosed heart disease. Despite these facts, many women still believe that heart disease is "for men only."

The good news is that heart disease is largely preventable. So, what can you do to get (and keep) your heart healthy and fit? First of all, be sure to discuss your risks for heart disease with your healthcare professional. Ask how often you should have your blood pressure and blood cholesterol measured. These simple tests can indicate an increased risk for heart disease.

Then: Get moving. "Research shows that cardiovascular fitness helps protect against heart disease. As fitness goes up, the incidence of heart disease goes down," says Judy Wilson, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology at the University of Texas at Arlington.

But don't throw in the towel at this often-repeated message. Working your way to fitness -- and health -- may just be easier than you think.

What is cardiovascular fitness?

When a woman can walk briskly, jog, or swim comfortably for a half hour or more, she's achieved cardiovascular fitness: a strong, healthy heart and healthy lungs able to sustain activities that require oxygen. "Put simply, the more oxygen one can utilize, the more 'fit' that person is," Dr. Wilson says.

How can cardiovascular fitness be achieved?

The means to cardiovascular fitness is cardiovascular exercise. "Cardiovascular exercise is any activity that involves the large muscles in the body, raises the heart rate, and is continuous and rhythmic," says Nieca Goldberg, MD, chief of Women's Cardiac Care at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. This includes walking, biking, jogging, swimming, and even dancing.

Some women avoid aerobic exercise altogether because they fear they'll have to spend hours sweating in a gym to reach their cardiac fitness goals. But cardiovascular exercise can be done in a park, in a pool, or the comfort of your living room.

Continued on page 2:  How Much Cardio You Need


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