Five Steps to a Stronger Heart

February is American Heart Month, which focuses on cardiovascular health. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in this country. Because it is an organ that can mean the difference between life or death, we need to make certain that the heart gets some well-deserved attention.Movement is essential to keeping your heart healthy for the long run and regular exercise is a great way to lower your risk of heart disease. Here are five steps to get you moving:Move Every DayThe American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week. You can break this down to 30 minutes for five days during the week. This can mean a daily walk, a bike ride, yoga, swimming, tennis, etc. Whatever you choose, make it something that you enjoy doing so that you can be consistent. Remember playing tag with your friends growing up? Exercise is play, not a punishment. And if you haven’t exercised in a while, start slowly and increase your time or intensity as you get stronger.Whatever you do, don’t just sit there—a sedentary lifestyle is said to double your risk of dying from heart disease.Focus on Your HeartWe all know the feeling of being out of breath after walking up a hill, chasing after kids, or just carrying a heavy package up a flight of stairs. That’s your heart telling you it's working hard to pump blood through your circulatory system. The heart is a muscle, and it is strengthened through exercise. Your responsibility is to make it more efficient at doing its job.A great strategy is tracking your heart rate. You can calculate your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220. For instance, 220-40 = 180. Now take 50-75% of that maximum heart rate, equaling a target heart rate of 90-135. This is the average maximum number of times your heart should beat per minute during exercise. But keep in mind the target rate is different for everybody; it depends on your level of fitness.There are many fitness trackers on the market that can help to monitor your heart rate. You can track your progress throughout the day, and they offer small nudges to motivate you.It's Not Just CardioStrength/resistance training is a great way to exercise your heart. One or two strength training routines per week can be enough. This type of training has a great effect on body composition, helping to reduce fat and create lean muscle mass. A combination of cardio and resistance training has been shown to lower the bad LDL cholesterol and may help raise the good HDL cholesterol.Squats, pushups, and pull-ups are three exercises that can be done with body weight, with dumbbell weights, or by using machines. Done weekly, they can improve the efficiency of your cardiovascular system, but you have to focus on doing them with proper form and with some intensity. If you're a little out of breath when completing these exercises, you're doing it right.Practice Tai Chi and Qi GongThis gentle exercise in the Chinese tradition can be very powerful in naturally calming the nervous system and improving cardiovascular health. Studies show that tai chi and qi gong have been found to lower blood pressure and reduce resting heart rate. It also reduces stress and cortisol levels which can contribute to heart disease.The level of physical exertion is compared to light walking so it is appropriate for all levels of fitness, from athletes looking to improve performance to others with chronic conditions. Qi movement classes, led by Dr. Mao via Zoom, can be found here on our website. And tai chi DVDs and downloads can be found here or through your local Tao of Wellness clinic.Set Attainable GoalsSure 10,000 steps a day sounds good, but if you are just starting out, cut this number in half and then build up to 10,000. Challenge yourself to do more every week and be specific about the goals you want to achieve. If your goal is, “I want to get healthy”, what does “healthy” mean to you? Maybe your cholesterol is high, and you want to get it below 200; that is a specific goal. If your goal is to fit into a smaller pair of jeans by summer, that is also a specific and measurable goal.Visualize your goal in your mind every day. If it’s what you want, go get it. Meeting small goals makes it possible to set larger goals to be attained. Good luck!

Five Steps to a Stronger Heart

February is American Heart Month, which focuses on cardiovascular health. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in this country. Because it is an organ that can mean the difference between life or death, we need to make certain that the heart gets some well-deserved attention.

Movement is essential to keeping your heart healthy for the long run and regular exercise is a great way to lower your risk of heart disease. Here are five steps to get you moving:

Move Every Day

The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week. You can break this down to 30 minutes for five days during the week. This can mean a daily walk, a bike ride, yoga, swimming, tennis, etc. Whatever you choose, make it something that you enjoy doing so that you can be consistent. Remember playing tag with your friends growing up? Exercise is play, not a punishment. And if you haven’t exercised in a while, start slowly and increase your time or intensity as you get stronger.

Whatever you do, don’t just sit there—a sedentary lifestyle is said to double your risk of dying from heart disease.

Focus on Your Heart

We all know the feeling of being out of breath after walking up a hill, chasing after kids, or just carrying a heavy package up a flight of stairs. That’s your heart telling you it's working hard to pump blood through your circulatory system. The heart is a muscle, and it is strengthened through exercise. Your responsibility is to make it more efficient at doing its job.

A great strategy is tracking your heart rate. You can calculate your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220. For instance, 220-40 = 180. Now take 50-75% of that maximum heart rate, equaling a target heart rate of 90-135. This is the average maximum number of times your heart should beat per minute during exercise. But keep in mind the target rate is different for everybody; it depends on your level of fitness.

There are many fitness trackers on the market that can help to monitor your heart rate. You can track your progress throughout the day, and they offer small nudges to motivate you.

It's Not Just Cardio

Strength/resistance training is a great way to exercise your heart. One or two strength training routines per week can be enough. This type of training has a great effect on body composition, helping to reduce fat and create lean muscle mass. A combination of cardio and resistance training has been shown to lower the bad LDL cholesterol and may help raise the good HDL cholesterol.

Squats, pushups, and pull-ups are three exercises that can be done with body weight, with dumbbell weights, or by using machines. Done weekly, they can improve the efficiency of your cardiovascular system, but you have to focus on doing them with proper form and with some intensity. If you're a little out of breath when completing these exercises, you're doing it right.

Practice Tai Chi and Qi Gong

This gentle exercise in the Chinese tradition can be very powerful in naturally calming the nervous system and improving cardiovascular health. Studies show that tai chi and qi gong have been found to lower blood pressure and reduce resting heart rate. It also reduces stress and cortisol levels which can contribute to heart disease.

The level of physical exertion is compared to light walking so it is appropriate for all levels of fitness, from athletes looking to improve performance to others with chronic conditions. Qi movement classes, led by Dr. Mao via Zoom, can be found here on our website. And tai chi DVDs and downloads can be found here or through your local Tao of Wellness clinic.

Set Attainable Goals

Sure 10,000 steps a day sounds good, but if you are just starting out, cut this number in half and then build up to 10,000. Challenge yourself to do more every week and be specific about the goals you want to achieve. If your goal is, “I want to get healthy”, what does “healthy” mean to you? Maybe your cholesterol is high, and you want to get it below 200; that is a specific goal. If your goal is to fit into a smaller pair of jeans by summer, that is also a specific and measurable goal.

Visualize your goal in your mind every day. If it’s what you want, go get it. Meeting small goals makes it possible to set larger goals to be attained. Good luck!

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