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Getting more exercise often tops the list of numerous New Year’s resolutions. Quiet gyms in February show the difficulty many have in sticking with this goal. Five scientific observations may keep you going.

The first observation is that people who stick to their exercise habits may add six more quality years to their life.

The second observation is that people who sit for less than 30 minutes at a time also live longer than people who sit for longer periods of time.

The third observation is that it really doesn’t take much exercise to get most of the heart healthy benefits of activity.

Multiple studies show that vigorously exercising three to four times a week for 30 minutes at a time is really the sweet spot to prevent heart disease.

What is vigorous activity? Basically anything in which you can’t speak a full sentence without needing to take a breath. These could include: uphill walking or speed walking, bicycling >10mph, jogging, singles tennis, aerobic dancing, or heavy gardening.

The fourth observation is that long term, vigorous, daily exercise doesn’t provide much further protection from heart disease. I tell my patients to think of exercise like medicine. A small dose likely won’t help much and too large of a dose can be toxic. Some consequences of long term, excessive exercise include overuse injuries, abnormal heart rhythms like atrial fibrillation and time away from family. Surprisingly, some studies show that marathon runners and triathletes have heart scar tissue and more hardening of the heart arteries compared with people who don’t exercise.

The fifth observation is that weightlifting prevents heart disease. Several medical studies have shown that regularly lifting weights for about an hour over the course of a week prevents heart attacks. Lifting weights for more than that didn’t seem to be more protective from heart disease.

Personal trainers at a local gym are a great resource to give you a plan for weightlifting.

What goals do I set for my patients?

1). Exercise vigorously three times weekly for 30 minutes at a time.

2). Incorporate moderate activities like walking into your daily life.

3). Stop sitting for prolonged periods of time.

4). Lift weights or do resistance activities two or three times weekly for 20 minutes at a time.

Of course, if you are just starting an exercise routine, you should first consult with your doctor.

Remember: start slow and work up to your goals.

Dr. Matthew Nelson, MD is a cardiologist at the Saint Alphonsus Heart Institute

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