A month to change your heart: Day 9

Most of us know that the benefits of exercise include weight loss, better blood pressure, less diabetes, better cholesterol, yet even that knowledge may not be enough to get you going.

So, here is something more to consider:  Almost any increase in your activity can decrease the chance that you will need a coronary artery bypass or stent.  

Exercise does this by beginning an incredible process unique to the heart.  When we exercise, we actually grow tiny new blood vessels in our heart muscle, which can then improve its blood supply.  The new vessels that develop in response to exercise are called collateral circulation.

Collaterals can provide a bridge around a severely blocked coronary artery by providing a new source of blood to an area starved of an adequate blood supply. This provides a quasi-auto bypass, giving the effects of bypass surgery without the scars.  Collaterals develop from aerobic exercise such as walking, running, biking, and swimming. Continuing this exercise for 30-45 minutes per day helps to both recruit and maintain these collaterals.  And your exercise doesn’t even need to be very intense; even moving around the house will help.

It is time to recruit those collaterals, and keep them around to help decrease the chance that a surgeon will make them for you.

On the ninth day of Change of Heart, my doctor said to me:

  1. When it is really cold outside, especially less than 15-20 degrees, take precautions when you exercise.  Very cold weather can make your arteries spasm, and increase the chance that plaque can rupture.  Dress in layers, and remove extra clothes as you get warm.  Wear a scarf or mask over your mouth to help warm the air that you breathe.  Drink plenty of fluids since cold air is drier than the air in your lungs, and draws moisture from your body as you breathe. Better yet – exercise indoors.
  2. Exercising after drinking alcohol may cause heart arrhythmias
  3. Try exercising in front of the TV if you have a treadmill, elliptical or an indoor bike, and always leave what you are watching at an exciting moment; you will want to get back to finish the next day

To return to the full calendar, click here.