Cardiac Rehab Week – Exercise and Your Heart
By Maresa Bowen, Exercise Specialist, MS, Rutland Heart Center’s Cardiac Rehab Program at Rutland Regional
Cardiac Rehab week, which falls during Heart month, gives us a time to reflect on the many factors that support a healthy heart. A major contributor that comes to mind when we consider this is exercise. Your heart is a muscle, and aerobic exercise strengthens that muscle and improves its’ ability to pump blood throughout your body. Long-term, consistent aerobic exercise, or “cardio,” can lower blood pressure, decrease ones resting heart rate, and improve cholesterol levels. Exercise also plays a key role in reducing and managing stress (which is critical for heart health, as we know high stress levels negatively impact the heart). Endorphins, the “feel good” chemicals in your brain, are released when you exercise, triggering positive emotions and helping combat anxiety and depression.
At Rutland Regional Medical Center, our Cardiac Rehab program teaches patients who have suffered a heart event how to incorporate exercise into their lives. The program runs Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday for 6-12 weeks, depending on the needs of the individual. Patients come in and exercise for a little over 30 minutes each session, working on different machines such as the treadmill, elliptical, and bike. More goes on here than just exercise, however — there are educational sessions, strength training, and teaching of relaxation techniques to maximize the benefits patients can receive. When patients are getting ready to graduate, we coach them on how to carry over the exercise habits they’ve established in rehab into their day-to-day lives.
The American Heart Association recommends 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise 5-6 days per week (or a total of 150 minutes per week). This amount of exercise may seem overwhelming initially, so it is important to just start with however many days is best for you. It is not necessary to complete the whole 30 minutes of exercise in one session, either—you can break it down into smaller portions of exercise that accumulate 30 minutes for that day. For example, going for a 15-minute walk twice a day is a great way to hit that 30-minute target.
For many, exercise can come off as intimidating and burdensome, but exercise does not have to be extreme or expensive. Brisk walking, snowshoeing, and dancing are all low-impact, fun ways to get your heart working hard. If you have arthritis or achy joints, aquatic exercise is great type of physical activity to try. Swimming, step aerobics, or even pool walking are great workouts that limit stress on the body and can even help the joints feel better.
Starting an exercise program is sometimes the hardest part, so here are some tips on how to begin being active and ways to stick with it:
- Find an accountability partner. This is someone who checks in on you to make sure you are getting your exercise in. This does not mean you have to exercise with this person, rather that he or she is on your team in seeing you succeed (while you do the same for them!) It is much more motivating to get your work out in when you know you must report back to someone at the end of the day.
- Make it fun! Find the exercise that you enjoy doing most and do that. No one said exercise has to be cranking out miles on a treadmill or peddling away on a stationary bike. Get outside in nature or dance around your living room—what ever makes you laugh and smile!
- Set realistic and attainable goals. If you aren’t exercising currently, don’t try to jump into exercising 5 days a week right away. Start slow with 2 days, and then slowly increase the number of days over time.
Check with your healthcare provider before beginning an exercise program if you have a history of cardiovascular, metabolic, or renal disease. If you are otherwise healthy and asymptomatic, you can begin light to moderate exercise right away. Stop exercise immediately if you experience any chest pain, dizziness, shortness of breath, or any other unusual symptoms. Now get out there and start exercising your way to a healthier heart!