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Physical Activity for Heart Health

Physical activity, exercise, and limited sedentary time are important for a healthy lifestyle. Not only does physical activity help with keeping your heart healthy, but it also reduces insulin resistance (risk for diabetes), can improve your good cholesterol (HDL), decrease your triglycerides, and help with body weight maintenance.

The concepts of physical activity and physical inactivity are broken down into three categories:

Physical activity for heart health

Physical activity is any bodily movement that requires energy to be used. This could be anything from walking through a parking lot, transitioning between classes at school, or doing housework. Physical activity has a significant impact on how much energy you expend throughout the entire day. If you move all day long, you will burn a lot of energy and it will help your muscles stay healthy. Children and adolescents should participate in at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day. 

Exercise for heart health

Exercise is a purposeful bout of high intensity physical activity with the primary purpose of increasing or maintaining health. Exercise is primarily characterized by intensity. High intensity aerobic or cardio exercise (60-75% of maximal exercise intensity) has a significant effect on increasing fitness, increasing good cholesterol (HDL), decreasing triglycerides, and decreasing diabetes risk. Although exercise does not have a significant influence on energy expenditure or body weight, it does have a significant influence on chronic disease risk. Children and adolescents should participate in 20-30 minutes of exercise per day. 

Sedentary time

Sedentary time is defined as time spent sitting or lying down while watching television, playing on a computer/phone/tablet, or playing video games. Sitting while doing homework, school work, or academic activities are not considered at risk sedentary behaviors. Sedentary time is associated with decreased energy expenditure, increased risk for becoming obese, increased risk for diabetes, and elevated triglycerides. Children and adolescents should not have more than 2 hours of sedentary time per day.

Staying hydrated for heart health

Often children and adolescents do not drink enough fluids. Dehydration occurs when fluid needs are not met. Some symptoms of dehydration include: 

  • Feelings of the heart beating faster or out of rhythm, or squeezing harder

  • Feeling dizzy or having vision changes when going from sitting to standing

  • Headaches

  • Feeling tired with low energy levels or low exercise abilities

  • Fainting/blacking out

  • Feeling shortness of breath

Proper hydration is even more important for athletes. Under hydration can lead to lower sports performance, so be sure to drink an extra 16-20 ounces of water for every hour of activity. Try to avoid caffeinated drinks such as soda, and sports drinks, due to added sugars.  

Resources for a health heart

Drink up! Water handout