Q&A about Exercise and Heart Health with Cardiologist Dr. Debra Judelson
Dr. Debra Judelson is a cardiologist and a scientific advisor to the Calorie Control Council. We caught up with the doctor to discuss the importance of physical activity for heart health.
I hear more and more people talking about exercise being important but I’m afraid I’m not healthy enough. Is exercise important for me?
Physical activity has always been important. As our lifestyles became more sedentary, the focus was on structured exercise. But now, scientists and health experts realize that physical activity is important. You can still be active without going to a gym. Physical activity is important in preventing heart disease and stroke. And, you can still benefit from activity even if you’ve already been diagnosed with, or are at high risk for developing, a heart condition — so talk to your doctors about activities you can do.
How much physical activity do I really need every day? I always seem to run out of time to go to the gym.
It’s not just time at the gym that counts. Physical activity is anything that makes you move your body and burn calories. The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise. You can even divide that up to three 10 minute segments if that is easier to schedule. But everyone has to start somewhere so if you can’t make this goal, set one you can reach to get yourself started. You can work towards the goal of 150 minutes a week as you get stronger. Think of ways to walk more during your day. Can you stand or walk in place while on the phone, window shop the entire mall before you start shopping, walk around the block with family, friends, neighbors, pets? Try dancing, gardening, or golf (and start to walk the course first). For these and other physical activities, see the Council’s “Get Moving” calculator
showing calories burned per activity.
How do I know if I’m overdoing it or underdoing it when I am being active?
There are a few ways to check this. You can use one of the many heart rate monitors that are available; especially if you like technology or it motivates you. Or you can judge the intensity based on how you feel. Moderate activity feels somewhat hard so your breath quickens and you start to sweat after about 10 minutes. But you should still be able to carry on a conversation. Vigorous activity is more challenging so you will sweat after just a few minutes and you won’t be able to say more than a few words before catching your breath. As you get stronger, you’ll notice that you can be more active than when you first started. But be careful not to overdo it. Back off a little bit if your heart rate is too high, or if you are short of breath, can’t work out as long as you planned to, or are in pain.
There are so many kinds of exercise. How do I know what is right for me?
The exercise that is right for you is the activity you can keep doing and hopefully enjoy doing. The exercises that are most known for being heart healthy are “aerobic”. These are the activities you should try to do for 150 minutes each week. Examples are walking, cycling, swimming, jogging and climbing stairs. But there are benefits to other activities and there is a variety of options to keep you from getting bored and help you get fit and healthy. Some, like yoga and tai-chi, help us improve our balance and strength. Others help stretch your whole body and your muscles to help you be more flexible. You can also strengthen your muscles, bones, and the rest of your body with strength and resistance activities. Don’t forget about the benefits of yoga. It may not count towards your 150 minute goal each week but the relaxation and meditation benefits may give you added benefits. If you haven’t been very active lately, then start exploring your options. Most people keep doing activities they enjoy doing and then find it easier to be more active. One activity that is popular to start with is walking.
Any other tips to help get me started and stay motivated about being more active?
Set some reasonable, short-term goals that you can work towards. Make sure you stay hydrated and avoid exercising when you are hungry. Remember to balance the calories you eat and drink for your activities with your other health goals. With so many options, find exercise that suits your personality as well as your health. Check your library or online for exercise videos to see if you might like a particular activity. A lot of class-based activities will let you try one to see if you like it. There are activities that are more suited to those that need some alone time and others where team mates or class mates are around so consider what you like more. And most importantly, remember that everyone gets busy and struggles. Don’t get discouraged when you don’t reach your goal — just try it again the next day. For more motivation, check out the Council’s blog The Skinny On Low Cal
— especially for its Monday Motivational.