By Helaine Krasner, MS, RDN, CSOWM, CDN
February is American Heart Month. Did you know that heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States? There are many things we can do to reduce our risk by focusing on several key areas1.
- Get enough quality sleep
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Eat a nutritious diet
- Be physically active
- Quit smoking
- Control cholesterol and blood pressure
- Manage stress and blood sugar
- Practice self-care and seek social support
One of the most important ways to reduce risk is with physical activity, which in turn can improve many of the other risk reduction target areas as well. Research supports that physical activity can help improve sleep quality, aids in weight management, helps the body control cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar, reduces stress and risks of anxiety and depression, and can provide opportunities for social interaction. Physical activity can take the form of structured exercise, recreational activities, or can even be part of your daily routine.
The American Heart Association guidelines recommend at least 150 minutes (2 ½ hours) per week of moderate intensity physical activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous intensity activity. A simple way to assess activity level is by evaluating your perceived exertion. At moderate intensity you should still be able to carry on a conversation but with some difficulty and at vigorous intensity it would be challenging to say more than a few words without stopping to catch your breath. An example of a moderate intensity activity could be brisk walking and vigorous would be running or jogging, however your personal fitness level or limitations may require less strenuous activities to attain the desired level of perceived exertion.
Any amount of physical activity has health benefits so don’t be discouraged if your current habits are much lower than the recommendations. Don’t let all-or-nothing thinking get in your way. Start with a small goal to increase overall physical activity, and work toward reaching the recommendation over time. Find something you can enjoy doing and focus on the positive effects that you can feel now, not just on some long-range hope for a healthier future. Track your progress along your fitness journey and celebrate each milestone. Even reducing the amount of time spent sitting during the day will help improve your fitness level and reduce health risks. Your heart will thank you!
Simple ways to sneak more physical activity into a busy day:
- Use the stairs when possible
- Park farther away from your destination
- Increase your pace when walking
- Exercise while talking on the phone or watching TV
- Add a physical activity to a social event
- Take a 5–10-minute activity break at work
- Keep resistance bands or hand weights available for short workout sessions
- “Take Action for Your Heart: Get Started! Fact Sheet.” National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Jan 2024. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/resources/take-action-your-heart-get-started-fact-sheet
Helaine Krasner, MS, RDN, CSOWM, CDN is a registered dietitian nutritionist who takes great pride in helping our Bariatric and Medical Weight Management patients achieve their health and weight loss goals.