The Importance of Fitness To Heart Health
Exercise has so many benefits; there’s the improved mood, reduction in stress levels, sense of accomplishment, being part of a community, boost in determination and grit, and enhancing your enjoyment of life. Fitness is also vital to the health of your heart. Let’s dig a little deeper into why it’s so essential, what signs to watch out for, and what you can do daily for heart health.
Aerobic exercise, defined as any activity that increases heart rate and the body’s use of oxygen, helps to:
- Lower blood pressure
- Improve circulation
- Lower cholesterol
- Manage weight
- Reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes
- Increase strength and stamina
- Ward off viral illness
- Boost mood
All of these factors lower the risk of developing heart disease. Even though we know how beneficial staying active is for our health, sadly, heart disease remains the second highest cause of death in Canada, behind cancer. The good news is that since 2001, the number of Canadian adults diagnosed with and dying from heart disease has declined, so we are heading in the right direction.
Signs to focus on heart health
How do you know when to pay extra attention to your heart health? First, we need to take care of our bodies holistically. Eat a whole foods diet, get plenty of sleep, reduce stress as much as possible, participate in activities we enjoy, and stay physically active.
If you can participate in moderate physical activity, such as brisk walking, without chest pain or difficulty breathing, your body is receiving the oxygen it needs. If you have difficulty catching your breath or experience fatigue with everyday activities, such as shopping for groceries, climbing the stairs or walking from the car to work, you may want to speak with your doctor. If you have any concerns, it is best to address them with a physician so you can take the proper steps toward better health.
How much exercise does my heart need?
Keep your heart in good shape by exercising for 30 minutes four to five times a week. The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada recommends “adults accumulate at least 150-minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity aerobic physical activity per week, in bouts of 10 minutes or more”. The key word here is ‘accumulate’ – it does not have to be a continuous activity. Take 10 minutes throughout the day to reach your weekly total. That is less than 22 minutes of aerobic exercise per day. You can do that!
Fit 10-minute bursts of aerobic activity into your day by:
- Taking a brisk morning walk first thing in the morning or on your lunch break
- Play with the kids after work
- Walk the dog in the evening
- Hop on the exercise bike between meetings
- Climb up and down the stairs in your building
- Jump rope in the backyard
*Pro-tip – Any physical activity is better than none! Use wearable tech, like a smartwatch, to track your time. By staying active, you will have more energy to navigate your busy day.
Focus on endurance, strength, and flexibility
The Heart and Stroke Foundation recommends choosing physical activities that require endurance, strength and flexibility.
Endurance activities are continuous and incredibly beneficial to the heart, lungs, and circulatory system, such as walking, cycling, tennis, cross-country skiing, and hiking.
Strength activities improve posture and strengthen muscles and bones, such as heavy yard work, weight training, and powerlifting.
Flexible activities increase your range of motion, keep muscles relaxed and joints mobile, such as stretching, yoga, golfing, and Tai Chi.
Variety is the spice of life
Vary your activity from light to moderate to vigorous.
Light activities include light walking, gardening, going on a slow nature walk, stretching or doing light-duty household chores.
Moderate activities include brisk walking, cycling, swimming, dancing, hiking, or enjoying a leisurely game of tennis.
Vigorous activities include intense aerobics, spin class, running, playing hockey, or powerlifting, where you’re working at 70-85% of your maximum heart rate.
One hundred fifty minutes of aerobic exercise per week can reduce your risk of heart disease by 20%. Choose the type of physical activity you enjoy and what works best for you. Routine activities like gardening and household chores are as good as structured workout routines. It is all about staying active, getting the blood flowing, and the heart pumping. It is always possible to start strengthening your body. See you on the move!