Be wise about your heart health

Be wise about your heart health

In Hard Times, Charles Dickens wrote, “There is a wisdom of the Head, and there is a wisdom of the Heart.” While many of us may know what needs to be done to live a healthy life, we don’t always follow such wisdom. In honor of Valentine’s Day and American Heart Month, here are some reminders from some Physiquality experts and the American Heart Association (a.k.a. the AHA) on how to care for your heart wisely (in the physiological sense, at least).

Working out isn’t as difficult as you might think.

Many people were put off by last year’s guidelines to work out 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week (or 150 minutes a week), to remain healthy. While it can sound daunting, even mild exercise is better than none. You can start by walking more, and by setting a goal of 10,000 steps a day. If you want to keep track of your progress, consider buying a pedometer to count your steps every day. You could also track it in a fitness journal like fitbook™. Angela Manzanares of fitbook™ notes, “Research shows that people who write down their goals are 75% more likely to achieve them.”

National Walking DayYou can also get your entire office or community involved. Why not sign up for National Walking Day, sponsored by the American Heart Association? The goal is simple: Sign up as many people as possible to take a 30-minute walk at some point on April 4. Just remember that exercise doesn’t have to wear you out to be productive. As Tom Rutlin from Exerstrider points out, “You don’t have to pant breathlessly, sweat profusely, or endure sore, aching muscles to reach or maintain your fitness goals. You simply need to put your entire body to good use on a regular basis.”

Eating well is key for productive exercise.

If you’re exercising regularly, you need to pay attention to your nutrition. Riska Platt, MS, RD, a nutrition consultant for the Cardiac Rehabilitation Center at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, recommends some guidelines to follow:

  1. Fuel up before working out.
    “Not fueling up before you work out is like driving a car on empty,” she notes. Be sure to drink plenty of water, eat healthy carbs like whole-grain cereals and fruits and vegetables, and avoid fatty foods.

  2. If your workout is longer than an hour, take a snack break.
    Any intense exercise should be peppered with water breaks, but if you’re in for the long haul, stop every half-hour or so to eat some raisins, an energy bar or a banana.

  3. Replenish what you’ve burned off.
    Be sure to refuel after your workout — more water and carbs, plus low-fat protein.

Avoid quick fixes to boost your energy level.

If you’re working out regularly and eating well, your energy levels should be good most of the time. But if your energy hits a dip in the afternoon, don’t reach for that energy drink. Take a walk to get your heart rate up; it’s amazing what a quick lap around the office can do to clear your head and improve your focus. Steer clear of large, heavy lunches — you’ll definitely need a nap after one. Try to plan for a healthy snack or two, like carrot sticks or a banana, around a smaller lunch.

Think about how much sleep you're getting.At home, think about how much sleep you’re getting every night. A good night’s rest is essential to accomplishing more during the day. If you’ve put on a few pounds, think about increasing your activity to lose weight and feel healthier. And, most importantly, lighten up, but don’t light up. Smoking, drinking excessive amounts of alcohol, and overeating may make you feel better in the short term, but they take a toll on your health in the long run.

Manage your stress.

Everyone has stress, especially in a rough economy. And while we all feel it differently, it can definitely wear you out quickly. So how can you minimize your stress?

  • Stay positive.
    Medical reporter John Hammarley notes that focusing on the negative can actually increase your stress. Try to remind yourself of what is possible vs. what isn’t, and focus on things within your control while accepting things you cannot change.

  • Laugh. A lot.Laugh. A lot.
    Sound silly? Perhaps. But laughter has been shown to lower blood pressure, improve your breathing, and even increase your muscle function. (And really, can you remember a time where you didn’t feel great after a good laugh?)

  • Give up bad habits.
    As mentioned above, alcohol, cigarettes and even caffeine can all increase stress.

  • Slow down.
    As the AHA puts it, “try to ‘pace’ instead of ‘race.'” Planning ahead rather than rushing at the last minute will allow you to accomplish more with fewer errors.

  • Get organized.
    Making to-do lists will help you focus on what needs to be done, while making sure that you don’t forget anything. If you feel that there are lots of places you could improve your organization, start with a manageable project first — your desk, the kitchen, or even a closet.

  • And, most importantly: Try not to worry.
    While it’s easier said than done, the world won’t end if you don’t finish that to-do list all at once. Sometimes you have to acknowledge that today might not be the right time. Accepting that will make it much easier to face the task the next day.

Angela Manzanares is the founder of fitlosophy and the creator of the fitbook™, a Physiquality partner program, and a revolutionary line of fitness + nutrition journals that are redefining how people reach their fitness goals.

Tom Rutlin is the founder of Exerstrider, another Physiquality partner program, and an internationally recognized total body walking fitness innovator and authority. He is considered by many to be the “father” of the rapidly-growing worldwide Nordic pole walking movement.

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For further reading:

Some exercise is better than none for lower heart disease risk. Los Angeles Times, August 1, 2011.

Csatari, Jeff. Where stress hides in your body. Today’s Health, June 24, 2011.

Brody, Jane E. A good night’s sleep isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessity. New York Times, May 30, 2011.

Warren, Ellen. Walking counts as exercise. , May 25, 2011.

Adams, Jill U. The new guidelines for heart health. Los Angeles Times, February 7, 2011.

Stein, Jeannine. Aerobics may have more health benefits, but don’t discount 10,000 steps. Los Angeles Times, May 17, 2010.

Edelson, Ed. Experts push 7 steps to heart health. Health, January 20, 2010.

Jameson, Marnell. Stress hurts. Los Angeles Times, December 1, 2008.

Ilnytzky, Ula. No joke, some patients laugh through treatment. MSNBC, November 28, 2008.

Mitchell, Steve. Writing down every morsel doubles weight loss. MSNBC, July 8, 2008.

Getting healthy. American Heart Association.

Dickens, Charles. “Book the Third: Garnering; Chapter I: Another Thing Needful,” Hard Times. 1854.

The material and information contained on this Web site is for information only and is not intended to serve as medical advice or consultation.

Consult your personal physician before beginning any exercise program or self-treatment.