Exercise and Heart Health: Every Little Bit Counts

Featured Article, Fitness, Healthy Heart
on February 5, 2015
exercise and heart health
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We all know that exercise is good for us—that’s a given. You’d have to be living in a cave, sans WiFi, to think otherwise. Furthermore, it’s pretty much a no-brainer that regular aerobic activity helps promote a healthier heart. But what you might not know is that even small, seemingly insignificant bursts of exercise can yield big outcomes—not only by improving your weight, but also by lowering blood pressure, improving heart health, and staving off heart disease. That’s right: You don’t need to slave away on the treadmill for an hour at a time to reap the cardiovascular benefits of exercise. Perhaps, just 15 minutes will do.

There tends to be a misconception that in order to be a “fitness person,” you have to be able to rival Usain Bolt in the 200 meter sprint. But this couldn’t be further from the case. The bottom line? Unless you are a professional athlete or personal trainer, fitness should not be an “all or nothing” approach. Besides, the rest of us are so busy, we simply don’t have the time to devote two hours—or even an hour—to working out. But staying active doesn’t have to be time-consuming. The AHA recommends that for a regular exercise routine to qualify to be an important component of heart health, it only requires that you get a minimum of about 30 minutes of daily exercise five days a week. The bad news, of course, is that less than a third of Americans do. And sadly, as many as 250,000 deaths each year in this country are attributable to a lack of regular physical activity, something so easy to remedy.

A recent study found that just five to 10 minutes of daily running – even at slow speeds – can significantly lower the risk of mortality among them.

According to Ed Dannemiller, a specialist in the Express Scripts Cardiovascular Therapeutic Resource Center, “Simply getting the recommended minimum amount of exercise can help reduce cardiovascular events such as heart attack and stroke by 30% to 40%.”

Dannemiller and the other cardiovascular specialists at Express Scripts counsel heart patients about the benefits of regular exercise.

“The benefits of exercise include a stronger heart muscle, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, better blood sugar level control, and maintained bone strength,” Dannemiller says. “Exercise also can help heart patients lead more active lives without chest pain. However, there are certain precautions that can minimize risks and prevent an adverse reaction.”

Dannemiller stresses that cardiac patients should consult a physician before beginning an exercise, especially if they recently had heart surgery or a procedure, experience chest pain or shortness of breath, recently had a heart attack or have diabetes.

“Cardiovascular patients on beta blockers, anti-arrhythmic drugs and calcium channel blockers may have a reduced heart rate and may experience lower gains in heart rates when exercising,” Dannemiller cautions.

For instance, exercising at 125 beats per minute while on a beta blocker may be the same as 155 without it. On the other hand, medications such as the decongestant pseudoephedrine, antidepressants, and thyroid medications can increase exercise heart rate.

“That’s why it is important to know the right aerobic heart rate target for you to prevent overtraining or under-training for patients on any of these medications,” he says.

Also, high-intensity exercise such as pushups, sit-ups and heavy lifting may not be recommended for people with compromised cardiovascular systems. For them, it may also be necessary to avoid certain everyday activities that can overly affect the heart rate, such as raking, shoveling and mowing. Walking, swimming and light jogging are good beginner exercises for those with a cardiovascular condition.

For cardiovascular patients looking to improve their heart health, here are a few of Dannemiller’s tips to keep in mind:

  • Maintain a steady pace, and rest between workouts.
  • Do not exercise outdoors in extreme humidity or extremely hot or cold temperatures. This can make breathing difficult and cause chest pain.
  • In cold weather, cover the nose and mouth when exercising outside.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking water – even when not feeling thirsty – especially on hot days.
  • Avoid overly cold or hot showers, and saunas and steam baths, immediately after heavy exercise.
  • Until you are used to it, and have built up your conditioning, avoid exercising in hilly areas be cause it may cause the heart to work too hard. Closely monitor your heart rate with your target rate in mind.
  • Stop exercising and consult a physician if you’re experiencing pain, dizziness, shortness of breath or excessive fatigue.
  • Stop the activity in the event of a rapid or irregular heartbeat. Check your pulse rate after 15 minutes of rest and consult a physician if the rate is still higher than 100 to 120 beats per minute.

All in all, a regular exercise program is good for everyone, and adherence to it, along with taking their medications, can also put cardiovascular patients on the path to better health.