Cardiovascular diseases are the number one killer in America. Almost 954,000 Americans died last year from cardiovascular diseases, accounting for over 42 percent of all deaths. The lack of physical activity is now shown to be a risk factor for heart disease. Estimates are that up to 250,000 deaths per year in the U.S., about 12 percent of total deaths, are due to a lack of regular physical activity. The relative risk of coronary heart disease associated with physical inactivity ranges from 1.5 to 2.4, an increase in risk comparable with that observed for high cholesterol, high blood pressure and cigarette smoking. Less active, less fit persons have a 30-50 percent greater risk of developing high blood pressure. Surveys show that 24 percent of Americans age 18 or older are not active at all. Fifty-four percent of adults get some exercise, but they don't do it regularly or intensely enough to protect their hearts.
Only 22 percent of American adults get enough leisure time exercise to achieve cardiovascular fitness. People with lower incomes and less than a 12th grade education are more likely to be sedentary. Of people age 55 and older, 38 percent report essentially sedentary lifestyles. Even low-to-moderate intensity activities, when done for as little as 30 minutes a day, can bring benefits. These activities include pleasure walking, climbing stairs, gardening, yard work, moderate-to-heavy housework, dancing and home exercise. More vigorous aerobic activities, such as brisk walking, running, swimming, bicycling, roller skating and jumping rope -- done three or four times a week for 30-60 minutes -- are best for improving the fitness of the heart and lungs.