How to prioritize heart-healthy exercise
It’s been said an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure — and that’s never been more applicable than when it comes to exercise and heart health, especially here in the Cincinnati area, with many people carrying around extra weight that can affect their hearts. “Obesity is an epidemic in this country,” says Dr. Gregory Clarke, Cardiologist, The Christ Hospital Physicians—Ohio Heart & Vascular. “That translates to a very big risk factor for heart disease.”
Getting outside for a walk, run or bike ride is more difficult during long, cold Midwestern winters. But it still needs to be a priority. The point, Dr. Clarke says, is to make time for exercise. “I ask patients if they exercise, and the answer usually is either ‘No, I don’t,’ or ‘Yes, because I’m active during the day,’” Dr. Clarke says. “But there’s a difference between keeping yourself busy and actually being engaged in formal exercise.”
Make the time
To ensure cardiovascular exercise takes place, it needs to be scheduled into your day. “If you do 30 continuous minutes of exercise, your metabolic rate will stay elevated afterward, and you will actually continue to burn calories after you’ve finished exercising,” Dr. Clarke says.
Dr. Clarke recommends 30 minutes of moderate exercise at least four times per week. That time commitment might seem like a lot, but realistically, it’s only two hours a week. If you’re not used to exercising, start slow and build. Your body might hurt and you might be tired at first, but exercise is energizing and produces endorphins that brighten your mood.
Walking remains the easiest aerobic exercise for most people to do. “You don’t need special equipment, you don’t need to go to a gym. You can go right out your door and walk. You can do it with other people or by yourself — whatever works best for you," Dr. Clarke says.
Winter outdoor workouts
For those who enjoy bundling up for a brisk workout at a local park, high school track or the Loveland trail, being outside during the day has the added benefit of sunlight exposure, which can boost moods and provide a dose of vitamin D.
Whether walking, running or biking, be sure to cover as much skin as possible, wear layers, and use moisture-wicking clothing. Also, watch for ice patches, as they’re a big slip-and-fall risk. Wear reflective gear if you’re working out in the dark hours of early morning or late afternoon or evening. Bring some cash, your ID and a cell phone just in case of an emergency situation.
If you prefer to exercise indoors during the winter, you can get your heart rate up by using your own exercise equipment, taking a class at the gym or walking at the mall. “In Cincinnati, there’s an enormous number of gyms and fitness centers that feature low-cost memberships for those who work out in the winter,” Dr. Clarke says.
Treadmills are not clothes hangers, Dr. Clarke says — if you have one at home, bring it out of the basement or the corner, dust it off and start using it. “A lot of people have a treadmill at home that they never use. Put it in front of the TV, find a 30-minute program that you like, get on the treadmill and walk while you watch. The time goes by, and you don’t even realize you’re getting your exercise.”
"You can get in weekly exercise in a variety of ways so find one or two that work well for you and start there. Another way to make it fun and increase your likelihood of success is to exercise with friends or family," Dr. Clarke says. "The benefits of aerobic exercise — helping your body to better use oxygen, strengthening your heart and cardiovascular system, increasing energy and reducing stress — are well worth it."
If you are overweight, have heart problems or lead a sedentary lifestyle, find out how exercise can benefit you by talking to a primary care doctor or cardiologist. Call 877-904-4YOU or visit www.TheChristHospital.com.