A month to change your heart: Day 5

Most people that begin an exercise program stop it within three weeks.

There are lots of reasons why — boredom, aggravating an old injury, lack of time, lack of planning.   It is especially hard to get going in the winter, when many adults spend as much as 70 percent of their time sitting – and that does not even include our time spent sleeping.  It is crucial to carve out some time every day (even if it is just 10-15 minutes) to do some kind of activity such as stretching, walking, jogging, walking on stairs, biking, using an elliptical machine or swimming.

Aerobic activity, which gets your heart rate up, is best, and anything counts.  A brisk walk, gentle jog, biking, elliptical trainer, or swimming are all good examples of aerobic exercise. Begin climbing stairs instead of taking an elevator.  If you are going to a store, park your car as far away from the entrance as possible, and walk. A good guide to remember is that you should be able to carry on a conversation while you are exercising.  If you can comfortably talk while walking or jogging, then you are likely well within your limits and will not get into trouble.  Of course, if you should feel any unexpected shortness of breath or chest discomfort while exercising, stop right away and call your doctor.

As you get into it, the optimal amount of time to exercise aerobically is 30 to 60 minutes.  This is best done continuously, but if this is too daunting, try two 15-minute walks.  Exercising continuously allows you to maintain an elevated heart rate for a longer period of time, which really helps the heart.  It decreases inflammation, lowers blood pressure, and burns calories.  Studies have shown that you can achieve optimal cardiac benefits if you burn about 2000 calories per week while exercising.  This translates to 30 minutes of exercise four or five times per week. 

Warming up and cooling down are important before your exercise.  The best warm up is a five-minute, low-intensity version of the activity that you are doing, accompanied by gentle stretching for another five minutes.  It is best to cool down by again doing a low-intensity version of your exercise.  During exercise, blood vessels dilate to supply more blood to your muscles and to your heart.  The cool down phase allows your blood vessel to resume their normal state.  Otherwise, blood may pool in your lower extremities, and can cause dizziness or lightheadedness.

On the fifth day of Healthy Change of Heart, the doctor said to me:

  1. Aerobic exercise is best when you are getting started.  Snow shoveling is not aerobic exercise.  Be careful when you are shoveling snow.  It can set you up for the perfect cardiac storm.  The cold weather can cause constriction of your blood vessels, and make your blood sluggish. Lifting snow, especially heavy wet snow, can cause coronary blockages to crack, leading to heart attacks
  2. Watch the video on exercising
  3. Have your blood pressure checked.  It is easy to do at most pharmacies or markets, that often have a automated cuff set off in a cubicle in the store.  Home devices are also good, and fairly
  4. Here are a couple of hints if you are looking for a home BP device: use an arm cuff, not a wrist cuff, which are notoriously inaccurate.  Automated devices are usually best.  Check your BP three times five minutes apart, and average the values.  Go over them with your doctor
  5. Exercise tip: In a  study by Dr Dean Ornish, people who demonstrated the greatest reversal of their coronary artery blockages exercised 5 to 7 times per week
  6. If you are someone who angers easily, try to list the things that can push your buttons.  It may be a lousy driver going to slowly.  Try to put yourself in their shoes.  Maybe they are driving too slowly because they are afraid of ice or the snow.  Feeling sorry for someone driving slowly is healthier for you than getting angry at them.

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