Everyone knows diet and exercise programs are instrumental in heart health, helping you lose weight, lower blood pressure, and reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. The exercise piece, however, may be the hardest to impose upon yourself, especially if you’ve had a satisfying long-term relationship with your couch.
But there is good news! You don’t have to start marathon training or lifting enormous barbells to keep your heart ticking. If you start off slowly and find an activity you truly enjoy, you are much more likely to sustain it in the long term.
According to Dr. Lokesh Tejwani of Novant Health & Heart Vascular Institute in Matthews, the first step is simply moving around. “Moving around is better than doing nothing at all,” he says. “In fact, even just standing more throughout the day is better than sitting all day long.” Of course, if you sit at a desk for hours work, it’s hard to avoid the chair. In that case, Dr. Lokesh recommends a standing desk if you can convince your employer to buy one. Or simply set a timer and take short walk breaks throughout the work day.
Walking is perhaps the easiest and healthiest way to begin an exercise regimen. It only requires a good pair of supportive shoes and a little enthusiasm. Dr. Lokesh urges individuals to gradually work up to 90 minutes of walking per day. “It doesn’t have to be all at once, though,” he explains. “You can break it up into several 20 or 30 minute segments.” Furthermore, those 90 minutes will undoubtedly get you to that magic number of 10,000 steps per day. (Don’t have a step counter? You can find an inexpensive one at any of the big box retailers.) If 90 minutes seems too lofty a goal, aim for 30 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity four to five times a week.
According to Dr. Lokesh, there are 31 million Americans over the age of 50 who don’t exercise or are inactive, putting them at an increased risk for heart disease. Walking and moving around with consistency reduces the risk of mortality by 30%. Dr. Lokesh also suggests parking your car far away from your intended location and taking the extra strides. “You’ll get to your step goal must faster and it will become a habit.”
Dr. Philip Iuliano of the Sanger Clinic in Mint Hill sites other benefits of aerobic exercise. “Not only do you sleep better and deeper with exercise, but it also improves blood flow in the collateral blood vessels,” he explains. Enhanced collateral blood vessels develop when cholesterol-clogging plaque builds up in the arteries leading to the heart, thereby rerouting blood around the blockage. Better blood flow means a lower chance of heart attack.
Increasing aerobic exercise is undeniably important, but strength training can also be extremely beneficial for the ticker. Lifting weights at least two times per week increases blood flow to the limbs and, according to a study from Appalachian State University, accounts for a longer-lasting decrease in blood pressure; as much as 20 percent lower after strength training as compared to aerobic exercise. The American Heart Association recommends working each major muscle group at least twice per week, making sure to take two or three days of rest between workouts. One set of eight to 12 repetitions with heavy weights or three sets of ten repetitions with lighter weights should make you comfortably sore the next day.
So do your heart a favor and get your feet moving. And then begin a brand-new relationship with weights. It will be much healthier than the one with your couch.