When lecturing about exercise and proper nutrition, I make a list of the top ten benefits (even though there are several) and always at the top of the list is, “Decreases the chance of heart disease.” The last item on the list is “Weight Reduction.”
Why do I list them in that order? Because so many people think the only reason to exercise and eat right is to lose weight. Now don’t get me wrong, keeping our weight in check helps reduce our chances of heart disease, so the two work hand in hand.
However, as a society we are so stuck on body image and what we see on the outside, we forget about what is happening on the inside. Our heart, that hard-working muscle that is pumping and beating to keep us alive, has been our neglected long-time companion all these years.
Instead, we are more concerned about our thighs and fitting into those size four jeans. With that being the case, we try and find the quick fix pill or drink to get us skinny, forgetting about how important exercise and eating right is to our body and most importantly our heart.
We think of heart disease as something men should be concerned about when in reality heart disease is the No. 1 killer for women in America according to the American Heart Association. The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute reports one in four women will die of heart disease this year.
Shockingly it is also the No. 3 killer in children under the age of fifteen. So, what can we do to help prevent Cardiovascular Heart Disease (CHD)? Exercise, proper diet, and maintaining a healthy weight, along with not smoking and getting regular health screenings are the key ingredients to keeping your heart healthy.
Regular physical exercise is more important then most of us think. Physical activity increases blood flow to your heart and strengthens your heart’s contractions so your heart pumps more blood with less effort. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends 30-60 minutes of moderate intensity exercise on most days of the week.
This can be done all at once or broken up throughout the day, such as ten to 20 minutes in the morning, afternoon and evening. If you can’t meet these guidelines, don’t give up. Do what you can because something is always better then nothing. Walking the dog, taking the stairs, and dancing with your kids all contribute.
Even though a shake or a pill may help you lose weight short-term, neither of them do anything to help keep you healthy, long term. For both weight control and heart heath, it is important to consume the foods that are good for you instead of just avoiding foods that are bad for you or avoiding food completely.
Research has shown that keeping your diet low in saturated fats, trans fats and sodium and filling it with fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, legumes, low-fat dairy, fish and even a little wine and dark chocolate can help decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease.
These foods are packed with vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, fiber and unsaturated fatty acids. All of these things may help lower your risks of heart disease by lowering cholesterol levels, counteracting high blood pressure, regulating muscle contractions including heartbeat, preventing blood from clotting and sticking to blood vessel walls and acting as antioxidants that help ward off disease by preventing and repairing cell damage caused by free radicals.
Please remember the famous quote from Dr. Cooper of the Cooper Aerobics Center, “It is easier to maintain good health through proper exercise, diet, and emotional balance than to regain it once it is lost.”
Proper nutrition and consistent exercise will keep you on the road to a healthy heart. Start now!