Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Importance of Exercise and Heart Health

We all know that exercise is good for us, but what you may not know is the impact that exercise and regular fitness has on heart health. As February is American Heart Month, here are some fun facts about exercise and heart health, and some tips for keeping your ticker in tip top shape!

Exercise for a Healthy Heart
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:
  • Strengthen your heart and cardiovascular system.
  • Improve your circulation and help your body use oxygen better.
  • Improve your heart failure symptoms.
  • Increase energy levels so you can do more activities without becoming tired or short of breath.
  • Increase endurance.
  • Lower blood pressure.
  • Improve muscle tone and strength.
  • Improve balance and joint flexibility.
  • Strengthen bones.
  • Help reduce body fat and help you reach a healthy weight.
  • Help reduce stress, tension, anxiety, and depression.
  • Boost self-image and self-esteem.
  • Improve sleep.
  • Make you feel more relaxed and rested.
  • Make you look fit and feel healthy.
Getting started with an exercise program:
Before starting an exercise program, talk to your doctor about:
  • Medication changes. New medications can greatly affect your response to exercise; your doctor can tell you if your normal exercise routine is still safe.
  • Heavy lifting. Make sure that lifting or pushing heavy objects and chores such as raking, shoveling, mowing, or scrubbing aren't off limits. Chores around the house can be tiring for some people; make sure you only do what you are able to do without getting tired.
  • Safe exercises. Get the doctor's approval before you lift weights, use a weight machine, jog, or swim.
What Type of Exercise Is Best?
  • Stretching: slow lengthening of the muscles. Stretching the arms and legs before and after exercising helps prepare the muscles for activity and helps prevent injury and muscle strain. Regular stretching also increases your range of motion and flexibility.
  • Cardiovascular or aerobic: steady physical activity using large muscle groups. This type of exercise strengthens the heart and lungs and improves the body's ability to use oxygen. Aerobic exercise has the most benefits for your heart. Over time, aerobic exercise can help decrease your heart rate and blood pressure at rest and improve your breathing.
  • Strengthening: repeated muscle contractions (tightening) until the muscle becomes tired. For people with heart failure, many strengthening exercises are not recommended.
What Are Examples of Aerobic Exercises?
Aerobic exercises include: walking, jogging, jumping rope, bicycling (stationary or outdoor), cross-country skiing, skating, rowing, and low-impact aerobics or water aerobics.

How Often Should I Exercise?
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 day or every other day will help you keep a regular aerobic exercise schedule.

What Should I Include in an Exercise Program?
Every exercise session should include a warm-up, conditioning phase, and a cool-down.
  • Warm-up. This helps your body adjust slowly from rest to exercise. A warm-up reduces the stress on your heart and muscles, slowly increases your breathing, circulation (heart rate), and body temperature. It also helps improve flexibility and reduce muscle soreness. The best warm-up includes stretching, range of motion activities, and the beginning of the activity at a low intensity level.
  • Conditioning. This follows the warm-up. During the conditioning phase, the benefits of exercise are gained and calories are burned. Be sure to monitor the intensity of the activity (check your heart rate). Don't over do it.
  • Cool-down. This is the last phase of your exercise session. It allows your body to gradually recover from the conditioning phase. Your heart rate and blood pressure will return to near resting values. Cool-down does not mean to sit down! In fact, do not sit, stand still, or lie down right after exercise. This may cause you to feel dizzy or lightheaded or have heart palpitations (fluttering in your chest). The best cool-down is to slowly decrease the intensity of your activity. You may also do some of the same stretching activities you did in the warm-up phase.
How Can I Avoid Over Doing Exercise?
Here are a few guidelines to keep you from doing too much exercise or exercising too vigorously:
  • Gradually increase your activity level, especially if you have not been exercising regularly.
  • Wait at least one and a half hours after eating a meal before exercising.
  • When drinking liquids during exercise, remember to follow your fluid restriction guidelines.
  • Take time to include a five-minute warm-up, including stretching exercises, before any aerobic activity and include a five- to 10-minute cool down after the activity. Stretching can be done while standing or sitting.
  • Exercise at a steady pace. Keep a pace that allows you to still talk during the activity.
  • Keep an exercise record.
How Can I Stick With Exercise?
  • Have fun! Choose a type of exercise that you enjoy. You'll be more likely to stick with it if you enjoy the activity. Here are some questions you can think about before choosing a routine:
  • What physical activities do I enjoy?
  • Do I prefer group or individual activities?
  • What programs best fit my schedule?
  • Do I have physical conditions that limit my choice of exercise?
  • What goals do I have in mind? (For example, losing weight, strengthening muscles, or improving flexibility.)
  • Schedule exercise into your daily routine. Plan to exercise at the same time every day (such as in the mornings when you have more energy). Add a variety of exercises so that you do not get bored. If you exercise regularly, it will soon become part of your lifestyle.
  • Find an exercise "buddy." This will help you stay motivated.
No matter what type of exercise you practice, you are taking an active role in your heart, and overall health. So get up, and get moving! 

What are your favorite types of exercise?


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