Activity for a healthy heart
Prevention is always better than cure. This section outlines how regular exercise can give you a healthier heart and how relaxing can help reduce stress levels.
- Healthy heart
- Active heart
- Aerobic exercise
- Resistance training
- Where to exercise
- Safety first
Educating people about the risk factors of heart disease and persuading them to adopt a healthier lifestyle can have an impact on the number of people dying from heart disease and stroke.
Encouraging people to stop smoking, drink less, eat better and exercise regularly are particularly important. Doctors can help by asking about smoking habits and encouraging patients to use nicotine replacement treatment, such as nicotine patches.
Even if you've already been diagnosed with heart disease, making lifestyle changes can help you live a longer, healthier and more enjoyable life.
Being active is essential for a healthy heart for the simple reason that your heart is a muscle. Even if you haven't been active for some time, your heart can become stronger so it's able to pump more efficiently, giving you more stamina and greater energy. Becoming more active will also improve the ability of your body's tissues to extract oxygen from your blood, help you maintain healthy levels of blood fats and speed your metabolism.
If you are overweight, you're 80 per cent more at risk of heart disease. The best way to control your weight is to eat a healthy diet and take regular exercise.
Three types of exercise are vital for all-round fitness: aerobic, resistance training and flexibility.
Aerobic, or cardiovascular, exercise is particularly important in the prevention of coronary heart disease. This is any kind of activity that increases your breathing rate and gets you breathing more deeply. These activities include walking, running, swimming, dancing or any of the aerobic (cardiovascular) machines at the gym, such as the rowing machine, treadmill, stepper or elliptical trainer.
These are designed to increase the strength of your heart muscle by improving your body's ability to extract oxygen from the blood and transport it to the rest of the body. Aerobic exercise also enhances your body's ability to use oxygen efficiently and to burn (or metabolise) fats and carbohydrates for energy.
Resistance training helps to make your muscles stronger, strengthens your bones and protects your joints from the risk of injury.
This type of exercise can involve the use of free weights and weights machines such as those found in the gym, or any kind of activity in which you load your muscles. For example, carrying heavy shopping bags or exercises such as press-ups, lunges and squats, and some of the yoga exercises in which you use your body weight, are all good for resistance.
Resistance training doesn't increase the fitness of your heart like aerobic exercise, but it can help to control your weight because muscular tissue burns more calories than fat.
This type of exercise isn't recommended for people with uncontrolled high blood pressure or heart disease, so if you are affected by those conditions, check with your doctor.
Stretching helps relax and lengthen your muscles, encourages improved blood flow, and helps to keep you supple so you can move more easily. Experts say it's good to stretch for five to 10 minutes every day.
There are a number of simple stretches you can find in virtually any book about exercise, or be taught by the instructor at the gym.
If you want more organised stretching, yoga and Pilates are safe and gentle for people with heart problems, as they help calm the mind and body and reduce stress. That said, there may still be some exercises or postures that are not recommended if you have heart disease, so check with your doctor first and tell your instructor if you have high blood pressure or heart disease.
Where to exercise
There's no need to join a gym or take part in organised sport, unless you want to. Simply incorporating more activity into your daily life and doing activities such as walking, gardening and cycling can be just as effective as a structured exercise programme.
Your aim is to be moderately active for 30 minutes most days of the week. If you find it hard to fit this into your life, split it up into shorter periods. You should feel that your heart rate is increasing and that you're breathing more deeply and frequently. You should be able to walk and talk at the same time - if you can't, the activity is too strenuous.
If you experience any or all of the following, stop exercising immediately and consult your doctor:
- Chest pain
- Dizziness, light-headedness or confusion
- Nausea or vomiting
- Cramp-like pains in the legs (intermittent claudication)
- Pale or bluish skin tone
- Breathlessness lasting for more than 10 minutes
- Palpitations (rapid or irregular heart beat).
- Continued fatigue (lasting for 24 hours or more)
- Fluid retention (swollen ankles, sudden weight gain)
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