“Heart disease takes the lives of far too many people in this country, depriving their families and communities of someone they love and care for—a father, a mother, a wife, a friend, a neighbor, a spouse. With more than 2 million heart attacks and strokes a year, and 800,000 deaths, just about all of us have been touched by someone who has had heart disease, heart attack, or a stroke.” - Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius
In March of 2011, my father suffered a major heart attack. He underwent a quintuple bypass and is still recovering from the complications of the surgery. His heart attack was that real “eye-opener” for me. It was the main reason that I decided to change my lifestyle to one of fitness and motivation. I never want to be in the position that he was…holding on to loved ones hands, not being able to speak because of a tube down your throat breathing for you, not knowing if the medicines would work and praying the procedures would hold up.
The month of February centers on the heart and the care of our physical heart is every bit as important. As Valentine’s Day approaches, our thoughts are filled with visions of chocolates, flowers and special meals. Warm drinks, cozy fires and time with family and friends bring comfort to the soul. Personally my soul would be more comforted by knocking out some lat pull downs or some shrugs! But hey, that’s just me.
It’s been scientifically proven that there are certain activities, super foods and supplements that you can do and or take on a daily basis to increase your heart health quality. Some of you might be asking, “Why care about the heart? I just want to be able to fit into my bikini or board shorts and look good this summer.” Well in order to look good on the outside we must also take care of ourselves on the inside. It doesn’t really matter how big your biceps are if your heart is weaker than an elementary school child.
A sedentary (inactive) lifestyle is one of the top risk factors for heart disease. Fortunately, it’s a risk factor that you can do something about. Regular exercise, especially aerobic exercise, has many benefits. It can:
Lower blood pressure.
Decrease tension and aid in sleeping.
Prevent Type II Diabetes
Control of body fat. (Aerobic exercise in conjunction with strength training and a proper diet will reduce body fat.)
Increased resistance to fatigue and extra energy.
Tone muscles and increase lean body mass.
Boost self-image and self-esteem.
Increased overall stamina.
Psychological benefits – exercise improves mood, reduces depression and anxiety.
Ok, I need to get technical for a minute here. Aerobic means with air or oxygen. You should be able to carry on a short conversation while doing aerobic exercise. If you are gasping for air while talking, you are probably working anaerobically. When you work anaerobically, you will tire faster and are more likely to experience sore muscles after exercise is over. Think of aerobic activity as being long in duration yet low in intensity. Aerobic activities include: walking, biking, jogging, swimming, aerobic classes and cross-country skiing. Anaerobic activity is short in duration and high in intensity. Anaerobic activities include: racquetball, downhill skiing, weight lifting, sprinting, softball, soccer and football.
Now that you know the difference, the recommended frequency of exercise really depends on your fitness level and goals. In general, to achieve maximum benefits, you should gradually work up to an aerobic session lasting 20 to 30 minutes, at least three to four times a week. Exercising every other day will help you start a regular aerobic exercise schedule. I recommend working up to exercising on most days of the week. While the more exercise you can do the better, any amount of exercise is beneficial to your health.
If you can’t get to the gym, there are easy ways to add activity to your daily routine:
Park the car farther away from your destination.
Get on or off the bus several blocks away.
Take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator.
Take fitness breaks instead of cigarette or coffee breaks. Walk, stretch or do some office exercises.
Perform gardening, yard work, heavy house cleaning, or home-repair activities.
Avoid labor-saving devices; turn off the self-propel option on your lawn mower or vacuum cleaner, and hide all of your TV remotes.
Exercise while watching TV. For example, use hand weights, a stationary bike or treadmill, stretch, or perform body-weight exercises such as crunches, push ups and squats.
Keep a pair of comfortable walking or running shoes in your car and office. You’ll be ready for activity wherever you go!
Walk while doing errands.
The next thing we need to do for a healthy heart, and this is just as important as exercise, is to eat clean. I’m not a registered dietician, so by law I cannot give out the do’s and don’ts of diets. But most people know that they should eat plenty of fruits and vegetables while cutting back on unhealthy fats, like trans fats. This is a good start, and your diet should include a wide array of fresh, unprocessed foods at its core. We need to eat a well balanced diet for our hearts to stay healthy! Foods such as blue berries, yogurt, pumpkin, fish such as salmon or tilapia, lean meats, vegetables, and avocado are great in keeping your heart healthy.
As always the best way to keep healthy is prevention. So make sure these two are synonymous: exercise and eating healthy! Here’s to a happy and heart healthy February!
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