The American Heart Association recommends that individuals perform moderately-intense exercise for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week. This recommendation supports similar exercise guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the American College of Sports Medicine.
People who maintain an active lifestyle have a 45% lower risk of developing heart disease than do sedentary people. Experts have been attempting to define how much exercise is needed to produce heart benefits. Beneficial changes in cholesterol and lipid levels, including lower LDL (“bad” cholesterol) levels, occur even when people performed low amounts of moderate- or high-intensity exercise, such as walking or jogging 12 miles a week. However, more intense exercise is required to significantly change cholesterol levels, notably increasing HDL (“good” cholesterol). An example of this kind of intense program would be jogging about 20 miles a week. Benefits occur even with very modest weight loss, suggesting that overweight people who have trouble losing pounds can still achieve considerable heart benefits by exercising.
Some studies suggest that for the greatest heart protection, it is not the duration of a single exercise session that counts but the total daily amount of energy expended. Therefore, the best way to exercise may be in multiple short bouts of intense exercise, which can be particularly helpful for older people.