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Protect Your Heart this February


This post was written by **Christine Soutendijk, M.D.* Dr. Soutendijk drew her inspiration to pursue preventative care from her grandmother, who "lived into her nineties with an excellent quality of life." She is passionate about helping patients improve their overall wellness through healthy living, getting appropriate screenings, and optimizing care of their chronic medical conditions. She also has a special interest in care for patients with osteoporosis, thyroid, and autoimmune diseases.*

February is Heart Month!  It's a great time to stop and think about how we can protect our hearts.  So, how can you do that?  It's simple:  Get up off the couch!

Heart attack, stroke and peripheral vascular disease – collectively known as cardiovascular disease --  can be prevented in many ways. While we often think about cardiovascular disease as a men's disease, it is actually the number one killer of women in the United States.  Yes, number one!  So we all need to think about reducing our risk.  Refraining from smoking and eating a low-salt, low-fat diet are definitely important ways to help our hearts.  But believe it or not, exercise is just as important.  In fact, a sedentary lifestyle doubles one's risk for cardiovascular disease.

Right now you may be saying, "Oh, no- exercise!  That sounds so hard," or "Gyms are so expensive," or, perhaps, "It's too cold out."

There are lots of reasons why you may not want to exercise, but it doesn't have to be so hard or expensive, and you don't have to get outside (if you don't want to!).  It also can be fun!

Exercise has more benefits than you may think:

  • Lowers the risk of dying from heart disease
  • Lowers risk of stroke
  • Lowers risk of getting diabetes; if you do have diabetes, exercise lowers sugars
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Lowers cholesterol
  • Exercise lowers harmful fats called triglycerides and increases helpful fats, called HDL, which protect the heart 
  • Lowers risk of colon cancer
  • Decreases feelings of stress, depression or anxiety
  • Helps with weight control- exercise burns calories when you are doing it, and even when you aren't by  increasing muscle mass
  • Helps build and maintain bones
  • Helps older adults become stronger and avoid falls
  • Improves circulation and exercise tolerance in those who have heart disease

"So, what kind of exercise should I do?"

It can be as simple as going for a walk.  The amazing thing is many kinds of exercise can do the trick.  Whether you are walking, jogging, dancing, or even hula-hooping; as long as you are moving, you can reap the benefits. 

The United States Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control suggest that you try to get two different types of exercise – aerobic training- exercising large muscles for a period of time and getting your heart rate up- and strength or resistance training-exercising to strengthen individual muscles.

Examples of aerobic exercise would be walking, jogging, dancing, biking, using an elliptical machine, swimming or even hula-hooping. All are equally good for your heart, so pick what seems the most fun to you. And you can mix it up, trying different ways to get aerobic exercise.

Examples of strength training include lifting weights, using exercise machines, or doing exercises on the floor like sit ups or pushups.  It is recommended to work on strength training twice a week, using all your muscle groups – including your stomach, back, chest, arms, shoulders, legs and hips.  When using weights or machines, try to do 10 to 15 repetitions of each exercise. 

And you don't need a gym for this! There are many inexpensive exercise videos that incorporate aerobic, strength and resistance training that you can do right at home.

A few tips: 

Frequency is key!  Exercise as often as you can, preferably five days a week for a total of 30 minutes a day (alternatively you could do 60 minutes, three days a week). If you can't exercise that often, do what you can.  Something is better than nothing! 

You do not have to do it all at once!  It is just as helpful to walk for 10 minutes three times a day, as walking 30 minutes all at once.

Start low, go slow!  Especially if you are not exercising right now, start with a short period of exercise and work your way up.  Doing so decreases your risk of injury.  For example, try walking for three minutes, then the next day five minutes, and before you know it, you will be at your goal of 30 minutes.  To reap the benefits, you only need to work at a moderate intensity – such as with brisk walking (3-4 miles per hour).   

I have described the minimum amount of recommended exercise that will give you health benefits, but what if you want to do more?  Will you get more benefit?  Yes!  A study of female runners showed that the protective cholesterol, HDL, went up by .133 mg/dl for every kilometer run per week.  But don't forget the "start low, go slow" adage.  Increasing your exercise intensity or duration too quickly can cause injury. 

If you have a history of heart disease or other conditions, talk to your doctor before you get started on any new exercise routine. Want to learn more?  Attend Jefferson’s Heart Health Day at the King of Prussia Mall Saturday, February 27, 2016.

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