Physical Activity and the Healthy Heart
By Jacqueline A. Eubany, MD, FACC FHRS
Physical activity is important for good heart health. It is beneficial in healthy individuals, people who are considered high risk for disease, and those who are currently living with chronic health conditions. From a heart standpoint, physical activity can lower your blood pressure, reduce your cholesterol, decrease your blood sugar and therefore your risk for diabetes, and overall reduces your chances of dying from heart disease related illness.
What is physical activity that is relevant to heart health? Physical activity for the heart is activity that increases heart rate to a certain level, and maintains that level for enough time for the heart to develop stamina, good cardiac circulation, and improve cardiac muscle function.
How much physical activity does one need to obtain a healthy heart? According to the American College of Cardiology, people should engage in a minimum of 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity or a minimum of 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic activity. Once the minimum level is attained, and one is comfortable exercising to this level, then one can slowly increase to a moderate aerobic activity level of 300 minutes a week, or increase to a vigorous aerobic activity level of 150 minutes a week. The length of time it takes between the start of your heart healthy exercise program and the accomplishment of your 300 minute per week moderate activity routine is left at your discretion and your physical activity level.
What are examples of physical activities that can be considered for one’s healthy heart routine? Moderate aerobic activities include things like brisk walking, dancing, and water aerobics, while vigorous aerobic activity include things like running, hiking uphill, and swimming laps. A good gauge of whether you are engaged in a moderate versus a vigorous physical activity is your ability to talk and/or sing while exercising. If you are able to talk comfortably, but not able to sing the words of your favorite song while you exercise, then you are more than likely engaged in moderate physical activity. Whereas, if you are barely able to utter 1-2 words while you exercise, then you are more than likely engaged in vigorous physical activity.
What should you consider before you begin your new physical activity habit? For those who are physically inactive, especially those with chronic medical conditions, it is very important to discuss exercise and your limitations with your physician prior to starting a workout regimen. Don’t be discouraged because you cannot exercise for 150 minutes a week. Remember, any amount of exercise is better than no physical activity. Start slow. Exercise for 5-10 minutes a day, and build up slowly over several weeks to 150 minutes a day. Set achievable goals each week and try to make them. If you do not achieve them, it is okay, just keep trying! If you stay focused and motivated, you will reach your goal! To quote Confucius, “It does not matter how slow you go, as long as you do not stop.”
In summary, physical activity is a key component to good heart health. It can lower your risk factors for heart disease, and decrease your risk of dying from heart disease related illness. Any physical activity is always better than NO physical activity, so you have to get out there and just move. The minimal goal for good heart health is 150 minutes per week of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous physical activity. Start TODAY! Start slow, and build up your stamina. Here is to good heart health. See you next time.