Building an Exercise Program

Aerobic Activity

  • How often: Minimum of five days a week of moderate activity or three days a week of vigorous activity
  • How hard: Moderate to vigorous activity — with an appropriate progression
  • How long: At least 30 minutes a day for a total of at least 150 minutes a week (progressing to 300 minutes a week, if possible)
  • What exercise: Activities that are tolerable — walking, aquatic exercise, stationary cycling

Resistance Activity

  • How often: At least two days a week
  • How hard: Moderate to vigorous
  • What exercise: Strengthening activities — weight-bearing calisthenics, stair-climbing, progressive weight training — that hit the major muscle groups

Flexibility Activity


  • How often: At least two to three days a week 
  • How hard: Light to moderate 
  • What exercise: Sustained rather than bouncing movements to increase and maintain flexibility

Building an Exercise Program

The right exercise program can dramatically improve your health and lower your risk for heart disease. Every successful program includes some form of the following three activity types. Use them to structure your own routine, using the information and guidance below.

The Three Exercise Types

  Description Examples
Aerobic Exercise

Aerobic exercise:

  • Is the most important of the three types for achieving heart health
  • nvolves continuous movements of the large muscle groups (legs, shoulders, chest, and arms)
  • Increases the endurance of your heart, lungs, and muscles
  • Burns calories and is essential to increasing muscle massIncreases the strength and function of your heart, which ultimately decreases its workload
  • Brisk walking
  • Jogging
  • Swimming
  • Cycling
  • Skating
  • Dancing
  • Climbing stairs
  • Rowing
Resistance Exercise

Resistance (weight) training:

  • Increases muscle mass (muscle provides support to your joints, which decreases your susceptibility to injury)
  • Increases muscle tissue and helps decrease body fat
  • Helps strengthen bones and improve posture
  • Improves body image and self-confidence
  • Works with aerobic activity to strengthen the heart and lungs
  • Improves your mobility
  • Weight machines
  • Calisthenics (body-weight exercises)
  • Handheld weights (also called free weights)
  • Resistance rubber bands
Flexibility (stretching):
  • Reduces muscle tension, improves circulation, decreases anxiety and stress, and lowers your risk for injury
    Should focus on the large joints and muscle groups
  • Has no limits, but stretches should be held for at least 20 to 30 seconds and repeated two to three times
  • Flexibility is important for everyday living and physical activity.
  • It permits you to move a joint through its full range of motion
  • Flexibility decreases with age, resulting in muscle tightness and greater risk of injury
  • Stretch until you feel a slight to moderate discomfort but not to the point of pain.
  • Stretch primarily after exercise; the greatest improvements in flexibility occur after the muscles have warmed up.
  • Check your breathing: Inhale before the stretch, breathe normally while holding the position, and then exhale during the release.

Structure of an Exercise Routine

  Description Benefits
  • Warming up involves mild aerobic activity and stretching to prepare the body for activity.
  • It mimics the intended activity but at a much lower intensity. For instance, if you are going for a fast-paced walk, start by doing a five- to 10-minute stroll.
  • Once you begin to get warm or start to sweat, you are ready for the conditioning phase.
  • Increases blood flow, stimulating the heart, lungs and muscles
  • Decrease the chance of irregular heartbeats
    Increases muscles temperature for improved metabolic output
  • Protects against injury and muscle soreness
  • Lubricates joints and increases flexibility
Conditioning Phase

Do 30 to 60 minutes of aerobic and/or resistance training (at least 10 minute intervals), based on your specific exercise routine.

Decreases risk for chronic health conditions and improves overall health and well-being

  • The cooldown slowly decreases your exercise intensity, allowing your body to safely return to a resting state.
  • It provides a gradual decline in intensity compared to the main conditioning phase of your routine.
  • The cooldown phase lasts five to 10 minutes, or until your breathing has returned to normal.
  • This is the best time to integrate a light stretching routine.
  • Prevents dizziness
  • Gradually slows down body functions, especially heart rate and blood pressure
  • Helps reduce the likelihood of exercise-related symptoms, including irregular heartbeat
  • Helps prevent unnecessary injury and muscle soreness


  • Adjusting your exercise routine as you go is essential to making sure you stick to it over the long haul. Doing too much too soon can cause injury or sufficient frustration that you give up.
  • It’s best to build up the frequency, intensity, and time of your exercise routine gradually. For example, when you first begin a strength-training program, you should start off by using resistance rubber bands or very light dumbbells.


  • Resistance training should be done every second day to prevent injury.
  • You should perform eight to 12 repetitions, increasing the weight when you are able to perform 12 to 15 repetitions of a given exercise at moderate intensity.
  • If you are unable to perform eight repetitions, decrease the weight by 2-5 lbs.
  • If you are able to complete 15 or more repetitions, increase the weight by 2-5 lbs.
  • After a few months of this kind of resistance and intensity, you will notice that your strength will start to stabilize.
  • Perform the exercises slowly; when you go too fast, you don’t get the full benefit or you can suffer injury.
  • Always consult a healthcare provider prior to beginning a resistance-training program — especially if you have neck, back, or eye problems.

Follow These Exercise Tips To Stay Comfortable and Safe:


  • Breathe steadily and in a relaxed manner while you exercise
  • Avoid straining yourself, and never hold your breath


  • Walk on flat ground, initially
  • If hills are unavoidable, walk more slowly when going uphill


  • It is best to wait an hour or two after a meal before you exercise because extra energy is required for digestion


  • Avoid exercising in extreme temperatures
  • If it is very hot and humid, walk during the cooler part of the day, such as in the morning and later at night. If it is extremely cold or windy, exercise indoors using stationary equipment, or walk in the hallways of your house or apartment or in a mall.
  • If you do exercise outdoors, walk during warmer times of the day and cover your face with a scarf to help warm the air before it reaches your lungs


  • It is important that you maintain good posture. Try to keep your shoulders back and relaxed.
  • Avoid slouching forward.


  • After walking, stretch your calf muscles. They are likely to get tight as you begin to increase your daily activity.
  • Stretching your entire body will help prevent injury.