Exercising Pretty Hard for 30 Minutes a Day Is the ‘prescription for Life,’ Doctors Say

Man running with dog on trail
 Andy Astfalck / Getty Images

Regular, consistent exercise is great for improving many things in your life—body image, attractiveness to women, and general health—so congrats for visiting Men’s Fitness, because we’ve got you covered on how to easily integrate simple and effective workouts into your life.

But committing yourself to working out, even as late as age 65, can also work as a heart tonic, boosting oxygen intake by almost 20% and making the love muscle over 25% more flexible over sedentary slugs, according to a recent study published in the journal Circulation.

Researchers put more than 50 people on an exercise plan that started out slow with three, 30-minute, moderate workouts a week for three months. After 10 months, the participants worked out five days a week, including two sessions of high-intensity interval training. The study followed two groups over two years, one of which did the above protocol under supervision and another who just did yoga and balance training. They found that four to five days make the heart more elastic, cutting down on the often inevitable arterial stiffening that happens as you age and can lead to increased risk of heart disease.

“When the [heart] muscle stiffens, you get high pressure, and the heart chamber doesn’t fill as well with blood. In its most severe form, blood can back up into the lungs. That’s when heart failure develops,” said senior author Benjamin Levine, M.D., director of the Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine and professor of internal medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern.

Follow this exercise prescription for a healthy heart

“Based on a series of studies performed by our team over the past five years, this ‘dose’ of exercise has become my prescription for life,” said Levine. “I think people should be able to do this as part of their personal hygiene—just like brushing your teeth and taking a shower.” His recommendation:

  • One 30-minute HIIT session, such as aerobic interval sessions in which heart rate tops 95% of peak rate for 4 minutes, with 3 minutes of recovery, repeated four times, also know as a 4 x 4. (It’s also the cornerstone of the “fitness age workout program“.)
  • Follow each HIIT routine with a low-intensity recovery session.
  • One session each week should be an hour long and moderate intensity—something enjoyable like tennis, swimming, hiking, or biking.
  • Be sure to do at least one or two sessions at moderate intensity—break a sweat and be a little short of breath.
  • Get in one or two weekly strength-training sessions using weights or exercise machines, either on a separate day or after a cardio session.