Move More for a Healthy Heart with Lily Henderson

Getting fit doesn’t have to be hard work. There are plenty of ways to build movement into your lifestyle that can still help you to reach your health and fitness goals, writes Lily Henderson, National Nutrition Advisor for the Heart Foundation.

healthy heart

How being active helps your heart

Regular physical activity is one of the best things you can do to live longer and reduce your risk of heart disease1. It can help to manage many of the risk factors connected with heart disease like your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels1.

Being active also helps to lower your risk of developing depression and anxiety2,3, may help to manage stress4, and improves your sleep quality5,6. All of which benefit your heart health too.

How much to get the benefits?

We recommend doing at least 150 minutes of physical activity each week. Aim for this to be moderate-intensity, which makes you feel warmer and breathe harder than normal but still able to talk. The more you can do above this – the better for your heart health.

Every little bit counts

150 minutes may sound like a lot, but it doesn’t matter how you do it.

Whether you do short 5 or 10-minute bursts of activity across the day or longer sessions – it all counts. Great news if you struggle to find time to fit it in!

The best type of exercise

Aerobic activity like walking is good for your cardio-respiratory fitness (also called cardiovascular fitness) and your heart health. But there are wider health benefits to doing strength, balance, and flexibility activities too.

What’s most important is that you’re moving your body. The best type of exercise is the one that you enjoy and one that you’ll keep doing.

Don’t forget about sitting

Our jobs and lifestyle can have a huge influence on the time we spend sitting. You may be getting in enough activity each week but still sitting for long hours during the day.

Our latest evidence shows people who sat for the longest (>8 hours/day) had an increased risk of death from heart disease when compared to people who sat the least1.

If you have a sedentary job, think about ways to build more movement into your day.

Whether you’re in an office or at home, this could be as simple as:

  • getting outside for fresh air during breaks
  • stepping away from your desk to eat
  • standing and stretching throughout the day.

Five ways to build movement into your lifestyle

  1. Look for opportunities: embrace any chance to add activity to your day. Like parking further away, taking the stairs or doing jobs around the house.
  1. Find an activity you enjoy and it won’t feel like exercise: like a scenic walk, gardening or playing a team sport.
  1. Focus on building the habit: put your active wear on as soon as you break for lunch or when you get up in the morning.
  1. Be realistic with your time: if life is busy, commit to a 15-minute walk instead of a longer one. Every little bit counts.
  1. Get a work colleague or friend to join you: you’re more likely to do it if you’re accountable.


  1. Heart Foundation Physical activity, Sedentary Behaviour and Heart Health Evidence paper, 2018
  2. Schuch FB et al. Physical Activity and Incident Depression: A Meta-Analysis of Prospective Cohort Studies. Am J Psychiatry. 2018;175(7):631-48.
  3. Schuch et al. Physical activity protects from incident anxiety: A meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. Depress Anxiety. 2019;36(9):846-58.
  4. Mücke M et al. Influence of Regular Physical Activity and Fitness on Stress Reactivity as Measured with the Trier Social Stress Test Protocol: A Systematic Review. Sports Med. 2018;48(11):2607-2622.
  5. Dolezal et al. Interrelationship between Sleep and Exercise: A Systematic Review. Adv Prev Med. 2017; 2017,1364387.
  6. Vanderlinden et al. Effects of Physical Activity Programs on Sleep Outcomes in Older Adults: A Systematic Review. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2020;17(11)

About the expert

Lily Henderson

National Nutrition Advisor, Heart Foundation

Lily is a New Zealand Registered Dietitian and board member of the Australasian Society of Lifestyle Medicine. She is passionate about using the latest evidence to educate kiwis with simple and meaningful lifestyle messages. As a mum of two young children, she understands the daily juggle to achieve a healthy lifestyle. When it comes to food, Lily aims to keep it real and focuses on all the tasty whole foods that nourish your body instead of excluding foods. When Lily isn’t cooking, baking, or thinking about food she is often writing about food. She appreciates a wide range of cuisines but can’t go past a mezze platter loaded with seasonal veg, dips, breads, and cheeses.

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