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Heart health and weight loss go hand in hand: here's how you can tailor your exercise program to double your benefits.

We've all heard that exercise is good for you. But what does "good for you" mean, and what kind of exercise are we talking about? If you want a stronger heart or a leaner body, aerobic exercise is key.

"To optimize cardiovascular benefits and weight control, your exercise focus should be on aerobic, repetitive and rhythmical activity," says Cleveland Clinic exercise physiologist Gordon Blackburn, Ph.D.

How aerobic exercise works

When performed regularly at moderate intensity, aerobic exercise can improve functional capacity and stamina, and this has been associated with a reduction in the risk of death from heart disease. Aerobic exercise also improves the function of the endothelium, the protective lining of arteries, making the arteries less prone to clogging with cholesterol.

Aerobic exercise directly and indirectly improves several risk factors that contribute to the development and progression of coronary artery disease, including high blood pressure, diabetes, triglycerides, high-density lipoprotein ("good" cholesterol) levels, anxiety and depression.

It also burns calories and, when coupled with appropriate dietary practices, contributes to weight loss.

How much exercise you need

While any activity burns calories, to gain cardiovascular benefit and reduce your risk of death from heart disease you need to expend at least 1,000 calories a week through aerobic exercise. This will require 30-60 minutes of moderate aerobic activity five days a week.

Doubling your effort to expend 2,000 calories per week will provide even greater benefit. Beyond this, heart benefits plateau, although the weight-loss or weight-control benefits will continue.


Everyone can do it

For people with medical conditions, the type and duration of exercise should be tailored to their ability and health risk.

"We want people with heart disease to do aerobic exercise, but it must be done at the right intensity," says Dr. Blackburn. "Aerobic exercise that is individually tailored to the person's needs and abilities is positive for heart health."

Although it will take a 70-year-old walker twice as long to burn the same number of calories as a 30-year-old jogger, both will reap cardiac benefits and expend calories.

Avoid common traps

Although exercise burns calories, you must balance calories out against calories in for weight loss to occur. Weight loss will only occur when more calories are expended than consumed per day. Beware of overestimating your calorie expenditure because you are exercising. Failure to focus on incoming calories will quickly erase any weight-loss benefits gained from exercise. One "designer coffee" can add back as many calories as expended in a single exercise session. A slice of cheesecake may contain more calories than you burned during exercise all week.

Build muscle mass

In a typical exercise session, resistance training doesn't expend as many calories as aerobic exercise, but it can help offset the natural loss of muscle mass that comes with aging. Although muscle tissue burns more calories than fat, a 10-pound gain in muscle mass burns only an extra 40-50 calories per day.

It's a simple formula

The more you move your body, the more calories you expend. If you expend more calories than you eat, you lose weight. With consistency, the benefits of aerobic exercise add up over time.

A 100-calorie deficit per day doesn't require drastic changes in diet or exercise, but done day after day for a year will result in a 10-pound weight loss.

Expending an extra 200 calories per day (a walk of about two miles) five days a week, coupled with a reduction of 100 calories (one light beer, half a chocolate bar or one big slice of bread) daily for a year can result in a 30-pound weight loss and reduce the risk of death from heart disease by 25 percent.

"Any change that you can follow for the long term offers major benefits both for weight control and heart health," says Dr. Blackburn.


To help lose weight:

* Exercise daily, but think about getting an hour's worth of exercise in two 30-minute workouts, rather than one straight hour.

* Eat a balanced diet that you can maintain every day, rather than a fad diet that could lead to re-gaining any weight you lose.

* Eat breakfast daily to get your metabolism kick-started and to avoid overeating later.

* Keep track of your weight loss to help keep you motivated and see what combination of exercise and diet gets the best results.
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Title Annotation:LIFESTYLE
Publication:Heart Advisor
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2010
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