Staying active is ‘the best medicine’



Being active, in all forms and at all ages, is one of the best ways to prevent heart disease and improve overall health and well-being.

It not only can aid with weight control and fitness, it can help in recovering from a heart episode or procedure.

“It is the best medicine,” said Dr. Randal Thomas, medical director of the cardiac rehabilitation program at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. “The more active we are, the better our bodies are functioning.”

That includes heart muscle strength, artery health and improved blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Physical activity helps oxygen move more efficiently through the body and can help the brain’s cognitive abilities.

Dancing, walking around the neighborhood, raking leaves or taking the stairs at work — instead of the elevator — are all ways to get moving. If you’ve been living a sedentary life, start with an activity you enjoy and keep your initial exercise session short, Thomas said.

“Get up off the couch and do something at least five minutes a day,” he said, suggesting that five minutes be added each day to build up gradually to a sustained period of movement.

The American Heart Association recommends adults get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity.

Even short bursts of activity are helpful, and some exercise is better than none. A 15- or 20-minute walk can generate feel-good endorphins. “We can feel these effects pretty quickly,” Thomas said.

Endurance exercise, or aerobic activity, should be included along with strength, balance and flexibility exercises as part of an ideal workout plan.

If physical activity already is part of your routine, it’s still important to be mindful of sitting for too many hours at a time. Extended sedentary time can be harmful, Thomas said. It can increase the risk for heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

For those living with heart disease, including people who have had a recent heart attack or heart procedure, physical activity boosts recovery and may help avert issues later.

“We get people moving, literally, while they’re still in the hospital,” Thomas said. The goal is to get a heart patient into a cardiac rehabilitation program within the first week of leaving the hospital.

Cardiac rehab offers supervised exercise and includes nutrition counseling, smoking cessation assistance and stress management. It can help reduce the risk of death from heart disease and reduce the risk of future heart problems.

Patients should not fear exercise, Thomas said. Though some easing into exercise is necessary at the beginning, cardiac rehab patients can and should be physically active.

With all physical activity, people who have medical concerns should seek guidance from their physician. Older people, for example, may want to pay special attention to balance, but they can remain active with balance support through seated aerobics, stationary bikes or treadmills that have side rail handles.

In fact, the latest federal physical activity guidelines recommend older adults mix balance training with muscle-strengthening and aerobic activities.

Children need exercise, too. Youngsters between 6 and 17 years old should get an hour or more of moderate to vigorous, mostly aerobic, physical activity each day.

Edit ModuleShow Tags

AD. American Heart Association Check Change Control Cholesterol logo. Take Action. Live Healthy! Download your free cholesterol guide today. button: heart.org/cholesterol. National supporter: Sanofi Regeneron.


 

AD: American Heart Association logo. Symptoms. Always feeling tired isn't normal. Learn the signs of Heart Valve Disease.


 

AD. American Heart Association logo. Know your blood pressure numbers. And what they mean. Gain Control. button: learn more.


 

AD. American Heart Association Support Network. Everyone's diagnosis story is different and sharing yours can help others. Join the Support Network and share your experience. heart.org/SupportNetwork


 

AD. Heart Insight. Get the app for free.


 

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Special Topic Supplements

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Departments

Heart News

Heart health news you can use about new scientific findings, public policy, programs and resources.

Heartfelt

Articles, poems and art submitted by heart disease survivors and their loved ones.

Life's Simple 7

Improving your health is as easy as minding seven simple health factors and behaviors. Tips and information to help you improve your health and enhance your quality of life.

Life Is Why

Everyone has a reason to live a longer, healthier life. These heart patients, their loved ones and others share their 'whys'. We'd love for you to share yours, too!

Simple Cooking

Cooking at home can be a daunting task, but a rewarding one for your diet and lifestyle (and your wallet). Making small changes in your diet is important to your heart health. Here are simple, healthy and affordable recipes and cooking tips.