Before you start that New Year’s resolution to exercise more, make sure you’ll do it safely.

Hartford HealthCare’s Jocelyn Maminta recently spoke with cardiologist Dr. Anja Wagner with the Heart & Vascular Institute at St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Bridgeport about the benefits of exercise to cardiac health.

“Exercise is the best thing you can do to decrease your chance of heart attack and stroke,” said Dr. Wagner. “Exercise has many benefits: it reduces your blood pressure, your heart rate and your blood sugar level. It also helps you to maintain or to work on a heart-healthy weight.”

Here are Dr. Wagner’s answers to some common questions about exercise and heart health:

How much exercise is recommended each day?

“At least 30 minutes a day of aerobic exercise or a total of 150 minutes of aerobic exercise per week is recommended. So 30 minutes five times a day or 150 minutes per week.”

What is the best way to stick with an exercise routine?

“You should pick an exercise that you like. If you don’t like what you’re doing, you probably won’t stick to it. Second, you have to have a goal, such as weight loss. It helps you to stay motivated and also lets you track your progress.”

For someone who has not exercised regularly in a long time, how should they begin an exercise routine?

“First of all, it’s never too late to start. However, there are certain things you have to consider. For example, if you have any underlying conditions such as heart disease or diabetes, you may want to be checked by a cardiologist. Whatever you do, you should start slow and gradually build the level of exercise.”

What is the best type of exercise?

“Studies have shown that you get the best health benefits if you combine aerobic and strength training. If you do three times a week of aerobic exercise for 30 minutes and then twice a week of strength training to increase your muscle mass, this combination has been shown to bring the best health benefits.”

Can exercise help to reverse any damage from cardiovascular disease?

“Yes. Patients who have had a heart attack and enter a formal exercise program after they have recovered, such as cardiac rehab, decrease their chance of death by 25 percent. Even when people who have heart failure — which is when your heart doesn’t pump well — enter a formal exercise program, their cardiac output can increase by about 20 percent.”

When is it OK to exercise again after a COVID-19 infection?

“This is still an area of ongoing research. What we can say at this point is if you had a relatively minor case of COVID infection and recover, then it is safe to start to exercise one week after resolution of all symptoms with light exercise. However, if you had a more severe case and if you continue with symptoms, you should get checked out by your physician before starting any exercise.”

If you have any concerns while starting a new exercise routine, be sure to speak to your doctor.