Prescription for a Stronger Heart

If you knew you could increase your self-esteem, prevent or delay common diseases, control your weight, and have more energy, would you do it?  "The answer most people give is a surprising 'no'," said Suzy Trahan, exercise specialist at Dynamic Dimensions.  "Exercise can do those things and more, and yet it continues to be excused away, despite study after study that proves its effectiveness."

The benefit that exercise has on the heart should convince everyone to get moving, Trahan says.  "Regular exercise is one of the best ways to make your heart stronger.  Because it is a muscle, it needs to be exercised on a consistent basis. By increasing your heart rate to an appropriate level for about 20 - 30 minutes three to five days a week, your heart will benefit."

This message is nothing new. So, why don't people exercise daily?  Trahan says it may be that people have become intimidated and confused.  "Some studies say nothing less than one hour every day is acceptable, others say just 30 minutes three times a week is sufficient.  If you have experienced an injury, you may be more hesitant to exercise fearing another set-back."  To overcome these obstacles, she suggests simply taking it slow.  "There's no competition. Once you realize the need for consistent exercise, you'll find it easier to go slow and incorporate it into your day.  You have plenty of time to increase your fitness level. There's no need to get overwhelmed."

In fact, overzealous people who set high goals tend to be the first to fizzle out.  She says it's better to start small and gradually increase rather than start with a bang and end up discouraged and possibly injured.

As for complicated routines, Trahan advises sticking with the basics.  "It goes back to simply getting your heart rate up for about 30 minutes.  You can do that by walking, jumping rope, taking a group fitness class, anything that elevates your heart rate for that period of time, or longer.  It doesn't need to be complicated routines. Keep it simple and you're likely to stick with it."  She says even the smallest effort counts.  "If you walk for 10 minutes, that's better than doing nothing. The hardest part is getting started.  It's likely that once you head out the door for a walk, you'll end up walking longer than you thought you could."

Exercise has shown to lower blood pressure, help control diabetes, improve sleep, reduce stress, increase flexibility, maintain a good body weight, along with countless other benefits.

Primary care physicians are being urged to talk about fitness to their patients during routine office visits, according to a recent issue of Archives of Internal Medicine.  According to one of the study's authors, treating high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and heart disease could take less time if the root cause - poor fitness - was addressed.

"The symptoms of poor fitness are these health concerns," explains Trahan.  "If the problem is taken care of, we wouldn't have the enormous impact of these diseases."

The study urges physicians to assess their patients' body mass index and waist measurement and discussing their fitness level at every office visit.  If the patient is overweight, the study says they should be warned about the dangers.

"If people viewed exercise like a prescription to good health, it may make more of an impact and motivate them to do something physical every day," said Trahan.