Physical activity

Regular physical activity is one of the best things you can do to reduce your risk of developing cardiovascular disease, such as heart attack and stroke. Just 30 minutes or more of moderate physical activity on most days of the week will improve your health.

Reap rewards of active lifestyle

Physical activity has many benefits to your health, including:

  • Improving your cholesterol level
  • Lowering your blood pressure
  • Helping with weight loss and maintaining a healthy weight
  • Controlling your blood glucose (sugar) level
  • Helping you sleep better and feel less stressed
  • And it’s fun!

What is moderate physical activity?

Moderate physical activity is exercise that makes your heart pump a bit harder. Talking the ‘talk test’ is a simple way to see if you are exercising at the right level:

  • When exercising, your breathing should be quicker but you should be able to carry out a conversation. This is where you want to be.
  • If you’re able to sing while exercising then you’re not working hard enough, so step it up!
  • If you can’t carry on a conversation while exercising, then you’re overdoing it, so slow it down.

How can I increase my physical activity?

Aerobic activity is the best type of activity to help improve your heart health. This activity uses the large muscles in your arms and legs – for example walking, jogging or cycling. You can start with small amounts of activity (2 to 5 minutes), two or three times per day. Gradually increase this to 30 minutes of continuous activity.

A good way to start regular activity is to include extra physical activity in your normal routine:

  • Get off the bus one stop earlier than usual
  • Use the stairs instead of the lift
  • Park a block away from work and walk.

This table gives some examples of various levels of physical activity. 

Light physical activity Moderate physical activity Vigorous physical activity
Leisurely walk on the flat  Brisk walking Walking very briskly/brisk walk uphill
Indoor bowls Lawn bowls Jogging/running
Playing pool Gentle water aerobics Playing soccer
Horse riding - walking pace Low impact aerobics Playing netball
Slow stationary cycling Line dancing Moderate cycling
Fishing Playing cricket/golf Playing touch rugby/rugby
Ironing Vacuuming Swimming
Watering the garden plants Mowing lawn and gardening  Climbing stairs

 Your doctor or practice nurse can help you to decide on some suitable activities. Ask them for a Green Prescription or phone 0800 ACTIVE (0800 228 483) to chat to someone about your physical activity plan. Remember, any physical activity is better than none. If you are already active, then perhaps now is a good time to increase your physical activity levels:

  • Join a sports club
  • Try a new activity
  • Exercise more often.

Note: If you have a history of cardiovascular disease you should consult your doctor before undertaking vigorous physical activity.

Check out other risk factors

See the links below for more information on tackling the individual risk factors you may need to address to have a healthy heart and cardiovascular system, remembering that they all work together to affect your risk level.

Credits: provided by the Heart Foundation of New Zealand and the New Zealand Guidelines Group, March 2010. Latest update Health Navigator team June 2015.