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A cardiologist explains 1 thing you can do to test your heart health — and simple exercises to improve it

Gabby Landsverk   

A cardiologist explains 1 thing you can do to test your heart health — and simple exercises to improve it
  • The best way to work out for better heart health is to keep it simple, according to a cardiologist.
  • Adding a few minutes a day of movement you enjoy can help you get fitter and live longer.

Exercising regularly is one of the best ways to keep your heart healthy and stave off aging, and you don't need to spend hours a week to benefit, according to a cardiologist.

Thanks to cutting-edge wearables and advances in the booming fitness tech industry, it's easier than ever to keep tabs on your heart health in real time. Fitness stats like VO2 max can help make sure you're getting the most out of your exercise sessions.

But even with all the data available, you don't have to overcomplicate your workouts, said Dr. Edo Paz, a cardiologist at White Plains Hospital and senior vice president of medical affairs at the digital health company Hello Heart. While it can be motivating to measure your health progress with metrics like resting heart rate, the real test is low-tech, Paz said.

"For the vast majority of people, you don't need any of this stuff. You just need to go out and start doing some activity," he told Business Insider.

An easy way to test your heart health

Can you climb more flights of stairs without getting out of breath?

This is a simple measurement of your fitness level. Maybe you used to get winded after walking just three blocks with your dog but now do five or more without breaking a sweat. That's a good sign you're getting fit, which means a healthier, more efficient heart and better odds of living longer, Paz said.

Once you understand your current fitness level and heart health, you can set yourself small, achievable goals, then try the test again and see exactly how much you've improved.

"People understand that if they can do more, that means that they're more fit," Paz said.

Just a few extra minutes of exercise a day adds up

One of the biggest fitness mistakes you can make for your health is taking on too much too fast, according to Paz.

"You can start small and build on it. You don't need to run a marathon tomorrow," he said.

Start by figuring out how much exercise you typically get in a week.

The latest guidelines recommend 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise, where you're working just hard enough that you can't carry a conversation, 75 minutes of vigorous activity, at a pace that leaves you out of breath, or a combination of both.

Paz said if you're not there yet, adding a little more exercise at a time can make a big difference, with an extra 10 minutes a day as a good starting goal.

"I think it's important to break it down into more bite-sized, achievable things so that you can gain some success and build on that. Even 10 minutes is meaningful and will make a difference," he said. "Just because you're not at two and a half hours a week doesn't mean that it's not worthwhile."

You don't have to run or jog to boost your heart health

If you hate running or struggle to find time for the gym, there are plenty of more accessible activities to help you hit your exercise goals, according to Paz.

"Just adding a little more physical activity to your day is key, whether that's going for a short walk, playing sports, or taking the stairs," he said.

Finding an activity you enjoy and can realistically do can help you be more consistent with exercise.

"It doesn't just need to be jogging, it doesn't need to be elliptical or cycling. If you like dancing, if you like pickleball, if you like basketball, if you like playing tag with your kids, all of those activities are worthwhile," Paz said.

For instance, movements like swimming or using an elliptical can be lower impact and easier on your joints than running, he added.

Don't forget about strength training, too. Lifting weights or doing body-weight exercises like push-ups can help you live longer, research shows. Even a few minutes a day of at-home exercise like a wall sit can help.

Paz also noted that exercise is "one piece of the puzzle" and that paying attention to heart health factors like your diet, sleep, and stress can pay off even more for your longevity.