American Heart Month Baptist Health offers tips to be heart healthy with exercise even in a pandemic
Inactivity and an unhealthy diet can lead to weight gain.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (Feb. 23, 2021) - It has been a long winter, and people have been slipping – slipping on snow and ice, and slipping in their health habits. For many, winter is a time for healthy habits and motivation to go on pause while enjoying the comforts of cozy time indoors.
Cuddling up by the fire to watch movies and drink hot chocolate is certainly enjoyable, but it can come with a price. What happens on the outside of our bodies is easier to see, and it can be shocking the first time we don our favorite shorts or swimsuit when spring finally rolls around, but damage also occurs on the inside of our bodies when we are not actively taking steps to protect our health.
Inactivity and an unhealthy diet can lead to weight gain and other health complications that place stress on the heart and other organs.
Lisa Groft, BS, ACSM-EP, fitness co-director at Baptist Health Milestone Wellness Center, sees it every year, but especially during the pandemic when people are staying home more and have limited options for fitness. Groft agrees that people are slipping, letting their health and wellness slide. “Living healthy is not easy to begin with,” she said, “and then add the fear and stress of the pandemic, and people will shy away from diet and exercise when they are stressed.”
Even with a few more weeks of official winter left to endure – and a few remaining cold snaps – you can still form healthier habits before spring, even if you do not have access to a gym or feel ready to leave home yet.
Good exercise: What is it and how to get it
Heart-healthy, or cardiovascular exercise, is anything that increases the heart rate for an extended amount of time. There is a scientific way to determine your target heart rate. Take 220 minus your age. Multiply your answer by 60% to get the low end of your range. Multiply by 80% for the high end of your range. While this is a generally held standard, Groft notes that everyone is different.
For those who do not have a heart rate monitor and do not love math, you can also use the method known as Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE), which is an objective measure of how you are feeling. Groft says on a scale of 1-10, you should be around a 5-6. “It should feel a little bit hard, but not so hard that you can’t stand it.” Groft says that using the RPE method allows for differences between individuals. It is also a good alternative to heart rate trackers, and even trackers on fitness machines, as neither are always accurate.
Groft’s rule of thumb for her clients is ten minutes or more. Groft says you will know when your heart rate is up because you are breathing heavier and sweating a little, and talking may become a bit more difficult.
There are several ways you can get exercise that is good for your heart. Groft recommends walking or running because you don’t need equipment or a gym membership to do it. Other forms of heart-healthy exercise including riding a bike, swimming or using fitness equipment such as an elliptical machine.
Heart-healthy exercise at home
If you don’t have access to equipment or a facility, there are things you can do to stay heart-healthy at home, but you must be intentional. “You have to create a place that allows that to happen.” Groft compares exercising at home to working from home. “You have to say, ‘this is where I am going to do my exercise.’” Exercising for 30 minutes a day is ideal, but if finding a large block of time is difficult, Groft also recommends exercising in a minimum of ten minute increments, and setting a timer to remind yourself to exercise.
“You can create your own plan of intervals – a minute each of marching in place, jumping jacks, and leg kicks. Stand in one place and move your body,” Groft advised. Climbing stairs is another heart-healthy exercise.
Maybe you are thinking of starting an exercise plan but just need a push to take the first step. If you need a nudge, consider hiring a professional trainer to keep yourself accountable and create a habit. Find a workout buddy, and if you can’t get together in person, try working out together on Zoom. Groft suggests, “Find a support system that will encourage you to do it even when you don’t feel like it.”
During the pandemic, Groft suggests being gentle with yourself. “The biggest thing right now – and all the time – is to give yourself some grace and understand that this is temporary. Don’t beat yourself up for not accomplishing your goals. Do a little bit of time and keep chugging forward, and eventually you can return to normal when things return to normal. Do what you can.”
Always consult your physician before beginning a diet or exercise program.
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