The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic exercise—that’s 30 minutes a day, five times a week. But Tina M. Kaufman, PhD, assistant professor in preventive cardiology and clinical supervisor of cardiac rehabilitation at OHSU, likes to break it down even further.

“People already feel like they don’t have time to go to the supermarket,” she says. “But when you divide a half-hour into smaller bits—10-minute walks in the morning, at lunchtime, and in the evening—it’s easier and just as beneficial.”

So how hard should you exercise? Kaufman recommends the “talk test” to gauge how hard you’re pushing yourself. In a relaxed, low-intensity effort, you should be able to talk and sing. In vigorous, high-intensity exercise, singing is impossible and talking is difficult. Moderate exercise, she explains, is that sweet spot where you should be able to talk but couldn’t sing a song.

Whether it’s cycling outside or on a stationary bike, jumping on a mini-trampoline, taking water aerobics classes, using an arm pedal machine, hiking, swimming, walking, dancing, or running, the best exercise is the exercise you enjoy, Kaufman says. She adds that even though aerobic exercise gives your heart the most benefit, women should also make time for strength training.

“The more muscle mass you have, the higher your metabolism: that’s why men generally lose weight faster than women,” Kaufman explains. “As you age, you tend to lose muscle mass unless you do something to maintain it.” That might include working with free weights, machines, or functional exercises that use your own weight such as sit-ups or push-ups. Flexibility training, through activities like stretching and yoga, helps keep women agile and prevent falls.

While making changes to boost your heart health isn’t easy, Kaufman emphasizes that the divide-and-conquer approach works for more than just exercise habits. “Do the easiest things first: if you change your diet, for example, try reducing some of the fats you eat,” she says. “You can make life changes through baby steps.”

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