February is Heart Health Month and since heart disease is still the number 1 killer of Americans each year we’d all better have a comprehensive strategy for protecting our cardiovascular system.
How Bad Is It?
The statistics on the state of heart health in the US are sobering:
In the US, over 2000 people die from heart related illnesses every day (about one every 40 seconds)
Every year over 735,000 Americans have a heart attack or myocardial infarct (MI) and of these, over 500,000 are ‘first’ heart attacks
Coronary artery disease, the prime cause of MIs kills over 370,000 people every year
The direct and indirect costs of cardiovascular diseases and stroke total more than $320.1 billion annually
Of course we all know that diet and nutrition are foundational and we’ll cover some elements of a heart healthy diet on a future post but today we want to talk about the critical component of movement and exercise.
How Much Exercise Do We Need?
Regular exercise has consistently shown in peer reviewed studies to lower your risk of heart disease and also increase the chances of survival after a heart attack. Researchers from John’s Hopkins in Baltimore and Henry Ford in Detroit reviewed data on over 2000 adults who had undergone previous stress tests and later had heart attacks. Their results found that those who were less physically fit prior to their first heart attack had increased risk of dying within the first year following their heart attack. So being physically active prior to MI added some great protections.
After a heart attack, increasing fitness levels have also been shown to improve long term health outcomes. The question is, how much exercise do we need to do each week to get those benefits? In the publication from the Henry Ford Health Systems and Johns Hopkins, researchers showed greater improvements in fitness were obtained with more intense interval training. They recommend that people aim for 75 minutes of vigorous activity a week, or 150 minutes of moderate activity, or some combination of the two.
Are You Better Than Average?
Recently, the Cleveland Clinic undertook a survey to assess how much exercise is necessary to protect the heart muscle and also evaluated how fitness-savvy people are (or aren’t) when it comes to heart health.  The results revealed that 40% of Americans were exercising less than the recommended 2.5 hours a week (150 minutes) of moderate aerobic exercise, and only 20% actually knew how much exercise is recommended for a healthy heart.
Over 40% of the survey respondents said that they didn’t have time to go to the gym, 37% indicated they were ‘too tired’ and 28% stated that other prior commitments with family or friends were more important than their exercise routine.
Well as far as I can tell, those challenges aren’t going to ever get any easier. We’ll always have too few hours in the day for all that we think we need to do at work and with our family and many of us know to well that being overworked to the point where we don’t have time for ourselves is a great recipe for feeling worn out and burned out.
So, faced with those challenges, what are we going to do?
3 Easy Ways to Get More Active
- Find several things that I can do at home without going to the gym. (going to the gym is great if you have time but if your too busy, don’t let that be an excuse)
- When I work out, I push hard. As noted above, the more intense the workout, the less time you need to spend doing it.
- Involve others. I like to play sports with friends so that I have other people who count on me to exercise with them. That makes it less likely to find an excuse to not workout.
Remember, it’s imperative that all patients should consult with their physicians before embarking on a new fitness program. We’d be happy to review these recommendations with you personally on one of your future visits.
Featured image photo credit: www.stock.adobe.com
 Shaya GE, Mouaz HA, Hung RK et al, Mayo Clinic Proceedings, Vol 91; Issue 2, 129-139; Feb 2016