Monday Medical: Exercise can boost heart health

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— February is American Heart Month. Medical experts report that although heart disease is widespread, there are things we can do to decrease our risk.

We know there are some risk factors we have no control over, including family history, gender and age. However, we can develop and sustain important lifestyle habits that significantly can lower our risk or even help prevent heart disease. These include tobacco use, cholesterol levels, body weight and blood pressure.

One of the most important things we can do to prevent heart disease is get some exercise on a daily basis. Finding time in our busy lives can be a challenge, but people who make exercise a priority will tell you they feel better, have more energy and can do more in a day than before they started getting regular exercise.

Strive for 30 to 60 minutes of moderately intense physical activity on most days. Even shorter amounts of exercise offer heart benefits as long as you are consistent. If you can’t get 30 minutes or more in at one time, don’t give up; you can break up your workout time into three 10-minute sessions each day.

When you combine physical activity with other lifestyle measures, such as maintaining a healthy weight, the payoff is even greater. You can reduce your chances of developing other conditions that may put a strain on your heart, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.

Exercise improves circulation, builds stamina, improves mood, increases energy levels, helps with weight loss and reduces stress.

If you have been inactive for some time, are overweight, have a high risk of coronary heart disease or some other chronic health condition, see your doctor or health care provider for a medical evaluation before starting an exercise program. Your doctor can suggest an exercise plan that’s right for you.

Here are a few tips for success:

■ Choose fun activities. Add variety to your exercise routine to keep it fresh and to avoid overworking the same muscle groups. Find a convenient time and place to do your exercise, and try to make it a daily habit.

■ If you miss a workout, fit more physical activity into your day, such as parking your car farther away so you walk more.

■ Don’t let snow and low temperatures keep you from being active. Try snowshoeing or cross-country skiing. Plenty of local businesses offer equipment rentals so you can try a sport without purchasing your own equipment. Steamboat Springs and surrounding areas are full of groomed trails.

■ Purchase exercise DVDs or Wii sport or exercise programs. Gather some friends and make a pact to take an exercise class together at a fitness studio.

■ While watching TV, take an exercise break during commercials. Walk around your house or up and down stairs, do squats, wall sits, pushups and abdominal curls. You don’t have to exercise strenuously to achieve benefits, but you will see bigger benefits when you increase the intensity, duration and frequency of your workouts.

The American Heart Association’s slogan for Heart Month is “Make it Your Mission” to fight heart disease in women. Let’s challenge each other to make it our mission to fight heart disease in women and men by being more active.

Lisa A. Bankard, M.S., is director of Wellness and Community Education at Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at lisa.bankard@yvmc.org.

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