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.‎

This article was originally published on May 15, 2015


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