How Much Exercise is Best for Heart Health? Americans Aren’t Sure

Cleveland Clinic Survey Reveals Many Aren’t Getting Enough Exercise, Don’t Know Recommendations

Exercise is one of the keys to preventing heart disease, the No. 1 killer of both men and women in the United States, but yet, a Cleveland Clinic survey shows only 20 percent of Americans know how much exercise is recommended for a healthy heart. The survey also showed 40 percent of Americans are exercising less than that recommended amount – 2.5 hours a week of moderate aerobic exercise.

Most commonly, people cited work obligations (41 percent) as the biggest factor preventing consumers from exercising more, followed by being too tired (37 percent) and obligations with family and friends (28 percent). The survey found that men are considerably less likely than women to let things get in the way of their exercise routine, with more than one-quarter of them saying nothing prevents them from exercising.

The survey was conducted as part of Cleveland Clinic’s “Love your Heart” consumer education campaign in celebration of American Heart Month. Cleveland Clinic has been ranked the No. 1 hospital in the country for cardiology and cardiac surgery for 21 years in a row by U.S.News & World Report.

The survey also revealed large misconceptions when it comes to exercise and heart conditions. Only one-third of Americans knew that someone with heart disease needs to exercise the same amount as someone without heart disease.

“While heart patients should certainly consult with their doctor before beginning a new program, they should be more worried about the effects of not exercising on their heart than exercising,” said Steve Nissen, M.D., chairman of Cardiovascular Medicine at Cleveland Clinic. “Nearly all people with heart disease, and without, should exercise. It improves blood flow, leads to lower blood pressure and will help you live longer.”

Additional survey findings include:

  • Weight: the biggest motivating factor. According to those who exercise weekly, 51 percent say that losing or maintaining weight is the No. 1 motivator. Only 32 percent of Americans say they exercise to benefit their hearts.
  • Calories: Americans don’t know how much to burn. Despite most Americans exercising for weight purposes, only 31 percent of those surveyed know they need to burn or cut out 500 calories from their diet to lose one pound a week.
  • Cardiac rehabilitation: benefits are known, though it’s underutilized. Most Americans (82 percent) realize that cardiac rehabilitation can reduce mortality rates from heart disease by about half. However, typically less than a third of patients prescribed cardiac rehab complete it. Cardiac rehab is a medically supervised program designed to improve health by identifying and reducing risk factors that lead to cardiovascular disease. It includes emphasis on appropriate exercise and diet for heart patients.
  • Testing: Who needs it? While it’s true that those with heart disease should talk to their doctor about starting an exercise program, most Americans don’t understand which patients actually need stress tests. 81 percent of those surveyed incorrectly thought that someone with high cholesterol needs an exercise stress test before starting an exercise program.

“Heart disease kills about 1 in 4 Americans, but many of these deaths could be prevented by simple lifestyle changes like exercising and improving diet,” Dr. Nissen said. “Americans know exercise is important, but most don’t realize just how far a little exercise can go – potentially reducing the risk of dying from heart disease by as much as 40 to 50 percent. It’s worth making time for it.”


Cleveland Clinic’s survey of the general population gathered insights into Americans’ perceptions of heart disease and exercise. This was a telephone survey conducted among a national probability dual-sample consisting of 1,009 adults, 487 men and 522 women 18 years of age and older, living in the continental United States. We have weighted the numbers to be nationally representative. Interviewing for this telephone survey (land line and cellphone combination used) was conducted by ORC International and completed October 22-25, 2015. The margin of error at the 95 percent confidence level is +/- 3.09 percent.

About Cleveland Clinic

Cleveland Clinic is a nonprofit multispecialty academic medical center that integrates clinical and hospital care with research and education. Located in Cleveland, Ohio, it was founded in 1921 by four renowned physicians with a vision of providing outstanding patient care based upon the principles of cooperation, compassion and innovation. Cleveland Clinic has pioneered many medical breakthroughs, including coronary artery bypass surgery and the first face transplant in the United States. U.S.News & World Report consistently names Cleveland Clinic as one of the nation’s best hospitals in its annual “America’s Best Hospitals” survey. More than 3,000 full-time salaried physicians and researchers and 11,000 nurses represent 120 medical specialties and subspecialties. The Cleveland Clinic health system includes a main campus near downtown Cleveland, eight community hospitals, more than 75 Northern Ohio outpatient locations, including 16 full-service Family Health Centers, Cleveland Clinic Florida, the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas, Cleveland Clinic Canada, and, scheduled to begin seeing patients in 2015, Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi. In 2012, there were 5.1 million outpatient visits throughout the Cleveland Clinic health system and 157,000 hospital admissions. Patients came for treatment from every state and from more than 130 countries. Visit us at Follow us at

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