Older man and younger woman stretching before going on walk/run on a trail

One of the keys to a healthy heart is keeping it active, both now and later in life.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), being physically active includes any activity that moves the body and burns calories. The AHA recommends doing 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous, aerobic activity (or a combination of the two) every week.

Getting started with an exercise plan can be challenging, especially if you're not someone who regularly exercises. Below is a simple 8-week exercise routine to help you get started.

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8-week exercise routine

Determine which day of the week you want to start your workout routine. The following plan details six days of exercise and one rest day before you start over at day 1.

You'll see that many of these include an effort level. One out of 10 means that it's the easiest exercise level (right above resting), where your heart rate stays pretty low. Nine out of 10 means that you are working nearly as hard as you can, and your heart rate should be increased.

Day 1: 30:15 intermittent fitness routine. This means you run (or walk fast if you can't run) for 30 seconds (9 out of 10 effort) and then recover (i.e., walk) for 15 seconds. Repeat this 16 times. If you would like to do a second set of 16 reps, give yourself four minutes of rest between sets.

Day 2: 30-45 minutes of walking at a 1 out of 10 effort level. This will likely be a pretty easy walk around your neighborhood.

Day 3: 30-45 minutes of endurance walking at a 2-3 out of 10 effort. Think of the pace you kept on Day 2 and increase that slightly.

Day 4: Run for 4 minutes at an 8 out of 10 effort. Then walk for 2 minutes to recover at a one out of 10-effort level. Repeat both running and walking three times.

Day 5: 30 minutes of walking at a 1 out of 10 effort.

Day 6: 60–90-minutes of an activity such as walking, hiking, bike riding or rowing.

Day 7: Rest day

Repeat this routine for three weeks followed by one week of recovery and rest. Slowly start adding some exercise during the recovery week as you feel ready.

When you're ready to start back up, repeat the same schedule for three more weeks followed by a recovery week.

When you're ready, make it more challenging

If you are feeling good and want to make this more challenging, do the following:

Day 1: Add a third set to the 30:15 intermittent fitness routine.

Day 4: Add one more rep, repeating the run and walk combo four times total.

Keep the rest of the week the same as the goal is to recover enough to be able to go hard on Day 1 and Day 4.

You can use this exercise routine when biking, rowing, using an elliptical trainer or running. The key is to involve large muscle groups and exercise hard for the prescribed duration.

Learn more about heart and vascular conditions and treatments from UC Davis Health

This blog was written by Jose J. Gonzalez Tinoco, exercise physiologist at the UC Davis Health Cardiac Rehab Program.