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Exercising three times a week for about 30 minutes each session has been shown to cut cardiac morbidity and mortality by more than 10 percent, explains general internist Seth Feltheimer at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center.

To reap maximum benefit from the exercise, your pulse has to stay above 100 beats per minute. This requires more than an average walk, "where you might often stop and start at each corner, and can't really get a chance to get the pulse up," he adds. Franke agrees, and recommends that you do whatever exercise "you enjoy enough to do regularly and is vigorous enough to increase heart rate, be it walking with a neighbor or a high-intensity aerobics class at an exclusive fitness club."

"If you compare a person who is 30 pounds overweight but physically active with someone who is thin but a coach potato, you'll find the thin couch potato has a higher risk of premature death and of some chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease and hypertension," Franke says. "Of course the best combination is to be physically active and relatively close to normal weight, but if there was a choice, without hesitation I'd choose a little bit overweight but fit."

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