I am
Physical activity and your heart health
heartfoundation.org.au|Helpline 13 11 12

Physical activity and your heart health

Physical activity and exercise can benefit your heart, body and mind.

Key takeaways

  • Being physically active includes everyday movements (e.g. walking) and exercise.  
  • Regular physical activity has many benefits for your health, both now and in the future. 
  • Simply doing activities you enjoy is a great way to start on the path to better heart health. 
  • As little as 10 minutes of physical activity a day can be good for your health. 
  • You can increase your physical activity at any age and just about any level of fitness. 
6 min read

Regular physical activity is one of the best things you can do for your heart health. Increasing your physical activity from as little as 10 minutes a day to the Australian Government’s recommended 30 to 45 minutes a day, five or more days of the week can help reduce your risk of heart disease and heart attacks. It can also prevent and manage many conditions and diseases, including some cancers, type 2 diabetes and depression. 

What exactly is ‘physical activity’?

  • Physical activity – Daily actions, such as walking to the shops, taking the stairs, getting off public transport and walking to your destination.  
  • Exercise –  Organised activities and sports, such as swimming, cycling, yoga and walking groups (e.g. Heart Foundation Walking Program). 
You can increase your daily physical activity without joining a gym or even breaking a sweat. The good news is you can simply do more of the activities you enjoy every day, like walking.  

Why is physical activity and exercise good for your heart?  

Building up your physical activity to the recommended level has many benefits. By making your heart work a little harder, you can cut your risk of heart disease by a third – regardless of your age, gender, income or where you live.  

Learn more about the benefits of physical activity 

How does physical activity help your body? 

  • Physical activity is good medicine. It can help reduce heart disease risk factors, such as high blood pressure and cholesterol. If you have heart disease, physical activity can help you manage the condition.
  • Increased activity can help you manage your weight, which also has many benefits including lowering your risk of type 2 diabetes and some forms of cancer. Being a healthy weight also reduces the risk factor for heart disease.
  • Regular exercise can help your bones and muscles become stronger.

How does physical activity help your mind?

  • Immediate results - If you take a short, brisk walk you may feel more refreshed and relaxed. You may also find this benefit will help motivate you to walk more often and for longer.
  • Improved wellbeing - Being active can help ease anxiety and depression, especially when done in natural environments like parks and gardens. You may find yourself feeling happier, more confident, and sleeping better.  
  • More opportunities to socialise - Being physically active is a great way to connect with others and build a sense of community. As you participate in more activities and exercise you might find yourself socialising more often with friends and family or perhaps joining an exercise class or sports team.  

How much physical activity do you need? 



Our busy, often sedentary lifestyle makes it hard to do the recommended amount of physical activity. But it’s good to know you are never too old or too young to move more.  

This diagram illustrates how much activity is advised by Australian Government guidelines for better health based on your age group.  

  • Moderate-intensity exercise – Activities that make your heart beat faster but don’t make you breathless.  
  • Vigorous-intensity exercise – High-intensity activities that make your heart rate higher and breathe more heavily.   
For more on the recommendations, visit Australia's Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines and the Australian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines.

How do you get started? 

  • Start small - Begin by blocking out some time in your day, even if it is just for a short stroll. You can then build up gradually. Remember that every step counts.  
  • Set realistic goals and be kind to yourself - If you are new to exercise, don’t be hard on yourself. Try to create a plan, starting with 10 minutes a day. Slowly building up may help you feel motivated to continue.  
  • Get more active in your neighbourhood - Go for a walk around your suburb. and you’ll probably see lots of places and opportunities to be more active. You could also take public transport instead of driving your car.  
  • Mix up your activities - To keep activities enjoyable, add some variety or try something new like tai chi or a dance class. You can also build activity into your social outings, such as going for a walk with a friend. 
  • Be prepared - Make sure you dress for the weather and be sun smart. You can wear an activity tracker like a Fitbit to monitor progress and help you stay motivated. 
  • Make sure you’re safe - Know your limits and make sure you don’t overdo high-intensity activity. Stick to well-lit public areas in the early morning or take a friend at night. Be aware of your surroundings by keeping your headphone volume to a minimum.  
  • Get active with friends and family - Having a buddy is another great way to stay motivated with physical activity. 
  • Join a community group - Join one of the many Heart Foundation Walking groups around Australia or contact your local council to find out about free or low-cost activities.  

Take care of yourself  

Being active over your lifetime is a great way to improve your health and happiness. While light to moderate physical activity is fine for most people, if you feel symptoms of discomfort, stop the immediately and seek medical advice.  

Symptoms of discomfort may include:  

  • Chest pain 
  • Feeling faint 
  • Difficulty breathing 
  • Your heart beats irregularly or too fast

Remember to speak to your doctor before starting any new physical activity if you have pre-existing health issues. 



Discover how you can get started with physical activity

You might also be interested in

4 tips to keep your heart healthy while working from home

4 tips to keep your heart healthy while working from home

4 tips to keep your heart healthy while working from home

Heart conditions in women

Heart conditions in women

Heart conditions in women

Like men, women can be diagnosed with a range of heart conditions....

Heart Age Calculator

Heart Age Calculator

Heart Age Calculator

Could you be at risk of heart disease? Get your estimated heart age now....

Are you at risk of heart disease?

Are you at risk of heart disease?

Are you at risk of heart disease?

There is no single cause for any one heart condition, but there are risk factors that increase your chance of developing one. ...

Healthy scalloped potatoes

Healthy scalloped potatoes

Healthy scalloped potatoes

1 hour and 10 minutes
Serves Serves 4 (as a side)

Women and heart disease

Women and heart disease

Women and heart disease

Every day, 22 women lose their lives to this condition....

Physical activity after a heart attack

Physical activity after a heart attack

Physical activity after a heart attack

Discover what you need to know about being active after a heart attack....

7 tips for staying healthy over winter

7 tips for staying healthy over winter

7 tips for staying healthy over winter

Tips for healthy eating and recipe ideas over winter and how to exercise when it's cold outside. ...

Confidential. Personal. Reliable.

Confidential. Personal. Reliable.

Confidential. Personal. Reliable.

Got a question about your heart?...

Benefits of physical activity for your heart

Benefits of physical activity for your heart

Benefits of physical activity for your heart

Physical activity and exercise can do wonders for your physical and mental health....

Research Directory

Research Directory

MyMarathon

MyMarathon

MyMarathon

The fundraising race where you set the pace. Run, jog or walk MyMarathon at your own pace during October....

Heart Health Check Toolkit

Heart Health Check Toolkit

Tenecteplase versus alteplase for stroke thrombolysis evaluation trial

Tenecteplase versus alteplase for stroke thrombolysis evaluation trial

Professor Mark Parsons, Institution: University of Melbourne...

Romesco Sauce

Romesco Sauce

Romesco Sauce

Serves Makes 350g | (Serves 8 – about 2 tablespoons - 44g)

Absolute CVD risk charts

Absolute CVD risk charts

Absolute CVD risk charts provide a visual tool to calculate CVD risk for use in practice in Australia....

Strawberry fields oats

Strawberry fields oats

Strawberry fields oats

10 minutes
Serves 2

Smart Heart Guidelines App

Smart Heart Guidelines App

Access to Australian heart disease guidelines is now free at your fingertips...

For professionals: Heart failure tools and resources

For professionals: Heart failure tools and resources

Resources for healthcare professionals on the management of patients with heart failure ...

Action Plans

Action Plans

Action Plans

Recovery is a long journey, so having a plan makes a huge difference. Using an action plan gives you a step-by-step guide to improving your lifestyle....

For Professionals: COVID-19 & cardiovascular disease

For Professionals: COVID-19 & cardiovascular disease

For Professionals: COVID-19 & cardiovascular disease

Information and resources for health care professionals....

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples: Heart health information and resources

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples: Heart health information and resources

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples: Heart health information and resources

Heart disease can occur 10 to 20 years earlier among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and can lead to long-term health problems. ...

Heart Week

Heart Week

Absolute CVD risk assessment resources

Absolute CVD risk assessment resources

Resources and clinical information for health professionals...

Q&A with Dr James Nadel

Q&A with Dr James Nadel

Q&A with Dr James Nadel

The role of inflammation in the development, identification and treatment of unstable blood vessel plaque...

How can I eat more fruit and vegetables for a healthy heart?

How can I eat more fruit and vegetables for a healthy heart?

How can I eat more fruit and vegetables for a healthy heart?

Research connect newsletter

Research connect newsletter

Research connect newsletter

The Research Connect Newsletter provides monthly updates on the Heart Foundation Research Program....

Clinical resources: Coronary heart disease and mental health

Clinical resources: Coronary heart disease and mental health

The prevalence of depression is high in patients with coronary heart disease (CHD)....

Hypertension clinical information and guidelines

Hypertension clinical information and guidelines

Clinical information for diagnosis and management of hypertension....

Green power smoothie

Green power smoothie

Green power smoothie

Fats, oils and heart health

Fats, oils and heart health

Fats, oils and heart health

Get the right balance of healthy fats in your diet ...

5 warning signs of a heart attack that you may not know

5 warning signs of a heart attack that you may not know

5 warning signs of a heart attack that you may not know

Fundraise to save Australian hearts

Fundraise to save Australian hearts

Fundraise to save Australian hearts

Join our community of fundraisers who are committed to taking action to fight heart disease....

Salad recipes

Salad recipes

Salad recipes

Search through our tasty salad recipes...

WEBINAR | Absolute CVD risk assessment practical update

WEBINAR | Absolute CVD risk assessment practical update

A multidisciplinary panel of experts discuss the practical application of absolute CVD risk assessment through Heart Health Checks....

Chicken recipes

Chicken recipes

Chicken recipes

Find heart healthy chicken recipes....

WEBINAR | Lipids in the limelight: clinical update on screening and management

WEBINAR | Lipids in the limelight: clinical update on screening and management

Apricot & pecan muffin bars

Apricot & pecan muffin bars

Apricot & pecan muffin bars

30 minutes
Serves 8

Lipid management clinical information and resources

Lipid management clinical information and resources

Lipid management resources for health professionals...

For professionals: Online education and training

For professionals: Online education and training

Online courses for health professionals focused on improving cardiovascular care. ...