Holistic Approaches to Heart Health: Exercise and Fitness
Physical activity is an essential part of our lives. Unfortunately for many Americans, a sedentary lifestyle is more common. In fact, surveys show that 24 percent of Americans over the age of 18 are not active at all.1 In today’s world it is difficult to maintain an active lifestyle because of improved technology, improved mass transportation, and a rise in sedentary jobs within the workforce.2 This physical inactivity has led to a dramatic increase in the rate of obesity in the United States. Currently an estimated 72.5 million adults in the United States are classified as obese.3 A persons’ body weight is influenced by a number of factors including genetics, metabolism, and socioeconomic status. Of these factors, behavior is the only one that is potentially modifiable.
A sedentary lifestyle is one the major risk factors for heart disease. You may be surprised to hear that being physically inactive can double your risk of developing heart disease. This type of risk increase is similar to what is seen in individuals with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cigarette smoking, and obesity.1 Being physically active improves the function of cardiac muscle and improves the body’s ability to consume and utilize oxygen.4 Physical activity also provides several benefits that can lower your risk factors for heart disease such as improved exercise tolerance, reduced body weight, reduction in blood pressure, increase in insulin sensitivity, reductions in bad cholesterol, and increases in good cholesterol.4
It is clear that any physical activity is better than none and that physical activity reduces the risk for a cardiovascular disease. However, you may be wondering what type of physical activity is most appropriate for heart health. According to the American Heart Association, physical activity for adults that is consistent with ideal cardiovascular health should be moderate intensity aerobic exercise lasting for greater than or equal to 150 minutes per week or vigorous for a total of 75 minutes per week or more.5 At first, these numbers may sound a little intimidating, but when spread over the course of a week in 30 or 45 minute intervals, the time will be more manageable.
You may have had exercise routines in the past, only to get bored within a few weeks or even days. So, it’s important to remember that physical activity doesn’t have to be boring. There is something for everyone. Examples of moderate aerobic exercise are water aerobics, brisk walking, playing doubles tennis, riding a bike on level ground, gardening, and ballroom dancing. Vigorous intensity aerobic exercise includes activities such as swimming laps, jogging or running, hiking uphill, jumping rope, playing singles tennis, and riding a bike fast or uphill.6, 7
The American Heart Association recommends the following tips for long-term success with an exercise program:8
- Dress for success
- Be sure to wear comfortable clothes and shoes that won’t restrict your movement.
- Plan your work out gear based on the activity and the weather.
- Make the time
- Begin slowly and gradually ramp up your level of activity.
- Schedule your exercise so that it becomes a routine part of your day.
- Have reasonable expectations
- If you have chronic medical conditions or are overweight, see your doctor to discuss limitations before exercising.
- Don’t become discouraged if you stop exercising. Catch your breath and start again.
- Don’t xercise under unfavorable circumstances. For example, if the weather is excessively hot or if you are feeling sick.
- Make it fun
- Don’t choose an activity that will exhaust you.
- Bring along company, such as a family member, co-worker, or friend to keep you motivated.
- Use music to keep you entertained.
- Track and celebrate your success
- Keep a record of your activities.
- Reward yourself when you reach the milestones you wanted to achieve.
Consistency is the key to successfully making physical fitness a part of your life. It is worth your time to make physical activity a priority in your life. Your heart will thank you.
Nicole L. Hatcher, DHS(c), MPAS, PA-C
Dr. Nicole Hatcher is an adjunct professor at Kaplan University’s School of Health Sciences and teaches the course Models of Health and Wellness. In addition, she works full-time as a physician assistant in cardiology in Norfolk, Virginia. Dr. Hatcher received a Bachelor of Science in Physician Assistant Studies from Howard University and a Master of Advanced Physician Assistant Studies from Oregon Health & Science University. She holds a Doctor of Health Science degree from Nova Southeastern University.