Staying Active

Exercise is a crucial factor to help you maintain a healthy heart.

A sedentary lifestyle is one of the top risk factors for heart disease.

Fortunately, it’s a risk factor that you can do something about. Regular exercise, especially aerobic exercise, has many benefits. It can:

  • Lower blood pressure.
  • Help reduce body fat and help you reach a healthy weight.
  • Strengthen your heart and cardiovascular system.
  • Improve your circulation and help your body use oxygen better.
  • Improve your heart failure symptoms.
  • Increase energy levels so you can do more activities without becoming tired or short of breath.
  • Improve muscle tone and strength.
  • Improve balance and joint flexibility.
  • Strengthen bones.
  • Help reduce stress, tension, anxiety and depression.
  • Boost self-image and self-esteem.
  • Improve sleep.
  • Make you feel more relaxed and rested.
  • Make you look fit and feel healthy.

Recent studies suggest that being physically active when you are middle aged can increase your life expectancy by two years – the same benefit as giving up smoking. 

People of all ages who are physically active are half as likely to get cardiovascular disease as those that are inactive.

Being active at any age helps control your weight, reduce blood pressure and cholesterol and will provide long term benefits for your heart health and general health.

Before you start becoming more physically active, it’s important to seek advice from your GP, especially if you have a condition that you’re taking prescribed medication for.

What kind of activity is good for my heart?

Being physically active doesn’t have to mean long gym sessions or strenuous work-out regimes.

As well as sporting activities such as swimming, cycling, running, exercise classes or playing a sport, there are many every day activities like walking, gardening and climbing stairs that will also do you good.

You can reap the benefits of being more active from all sorts of physical activity – any increase will be good your health.

How Do I Get Started?

Before starting an exercise program, talk to your GP about:

  • Medication changes. New medications can greatly affect your response to exercise; your doctor can tell you if your normal exercise routine is still safe.
  • Heavy lifting. Make sure that lifting or pushing heavy objects and chores such as raking, shovelling, mowing, or scrubbing is safe. Chores around the house can be tiring for some people so make sure you only do what you are able to do without getting tired.
  • Safe exercises. Get the doctor’s approval before you lift weights, use a weight machine, jog, or swim.
What Type of Exercise Is Best?

Exercise can be divided into three basic types:

  • Stretching: slow lengthening of the muscles. Stretching the arms and legs before and after exercising helps prepare the muscles for activity and helps prevent injury and muscle strain. Regular stretching also increases your range of motion and flexibility.
  • Cardiovascular or aerobic: steady physical activity using large muscle groups. This type of exercise strengthens the heart and lungs and improves the body’s ability to use oxygen. Aerobic exercise has the most benefits for your heart. Over time, aerobic exercise can help decrease your heart rate and blood pressure and improve your breathing.
  • Strengthening: repeated muscle contractions (tightening) until the muscle becomes tired. For people with heart failure, many strengthening exercises are not recommended. Always consult your GP. 

Set yourself a goal to build up to at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on five or more days a week. Moderate physical activity makes you breathe more heavily than normal and makes you warmer.

If 30 minutes is too much for you at the moment, build up slowly by:

  • Starting with ten minutes activity at least three times a day and start slowly at a level that suits you.
  • Gradually building up the time and frequency until 30 minutes feels easier
  • Choosing a variety of activities that you enjoy
  • Trying to do something every day.

Remember, it’s best to stop exercising if you feel any pain or discomfort.

It’s never too late to start

Everyone can benefit from getting physical – whatever your age, size or physical condition. Just remember that you are never too old or too unfit to start doing something.

The good news is that inactive people that start to do moderate physical activity feel the biggest health benefits. Your health risks will decrease as soon as you start to do more.