Live Well

Get Your Heart Pumping

February is American Heart Month — the perfect time to consider ways you can take better care of your heart to help keep it strong and prevent heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States1 and a contributor to increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19.

There are lots of ways to improve your cardiovascular health. According to the American Heart Association2, you can:

  • Eat a healthy diet that includes a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, skinless poultry and fish, nuts and legumes, and non-tropical vegetable oils.
  • Quit smoking if you do and drink alcohol in moderation.
  • Incorporate moderate-to high-intensity cardio workouts into your exercise

If all these lifestyle changes sound overwhelming to you, try taking this small step to boost your heart rate for a few seconds to a few minutes.

Small Step: Add Short Bursts of Intensity to Your Normal Activities

Please note: If you have a heart problem or chronic (ongoing) disease — such as heart disease, diabetes, or high blood pressure — ask your doctor what types of physical activity are safe for you. Discuss ways that you can slowly and safely build physical activity into your daily routine.

Example 1: Walk fast for short distances3

Walking is a great low impact exercise that people of all ages and fitness levels can do. You don’t need to invest in specialized gear. All you need is a dependable pair of shoes and a safe outdoor or expansive indoor space. The next time you’re walking — for exercise or to run an errand — try increasing your pace to a brisk walk for 30 seconds every two to five minutes. If you’re walking ten blocks to the store, walk fast for a few of them. Pick a time or distance interval that works for you and increase your pace every so often. This will elevate your heart rate, exercising the muscle and improving its use of oxygen. If you wear an activity tracker or heart rate monitor, you can see how much your pace and your heart rate increase.

Determine Your Target Heart Rate

Just getting started? No problem — start slow and do what you can. Even a five-minute walk has real health benefits. Build up to more activity over time. Older, inactive adults should gradually increase their activity levels and avoid vigorous activity at first.

Example 2: Take the stairs, then take them again4

Do you have an elevator in your residence and/or workplace? Take the stairs instead, and as often as you can. Have stairs in your home? When you need to go up or down a level, don’t just make it a one-way trip — instead, walk up and down them repeatedly until you feel your blood starting to pump. Start with going up and down twice, then add more sets as your endurance increases. Stair walking not only increases your heart rate, it also builds strength in your lower body.

Example 3: Do squats5

Several times throughout your day when you find yourself standing somewhere (at your workstation, at the sink doing dishes, blow-drying your hair, at the laundry table, etc.), perform a set of squats. Place your feet approximately hip-width apart and bend your knees as though you are sitting down in a chair. Bend until your hips are even with your knees, then slowly raise back to standing. Repeat the squat motion 15 times. Squats may not seem like cardio exercise, but when you work large muscle groups like your quadriceps, your heart rate increases. Aim for two or three sets a day to begin. You can always add more as you get stronger. You can also mix and match squats with other conditioning exercises like lunges, pushups, planks, jumping jacks, or jogging in place to increase your heart rate and condition other parts of your body.

See How to Squat Safely

Motivated to do more?

If you have ELCA-Primary health benefits with Portico:

If you have ELCA Medicare-Primary health benefits with Portico:

If you want to reflect on scripture as you walk:

  • Use Portico’s Road to Emmaus walking program, alone or with a partner, to help you grow in faith as you gradually increase your endurance over eight weeks.

1The Heart Truth® from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute


This information should not be considered or used as a substitute for professional health care advice. By providing this information, Portico Benefit Services is not providing any medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Each individual is responsible for his or her own health and medical treatment decisions. You should talk with your doctor to determine the lifestyle changes and health care treatment options appropriate for you.