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  • Exercise Tips for a Healthy Heart

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    Man playing basketballThe human heart is a muscle, and to keep it healthy and working we must strengthen it by keeping our bodies physically fit. Every year it is estimated that more than 80,000,000 Americans have one or more forms of cardiovascular disease. One of the best ways to lower the risk for conditions such as high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, heart failure and stroke is to understand how to care for your heart and to live a physically active lifestyle that will keep your heart strong.

    Made up of muscle tissue and about as big as a fist, the heart is a pump that circulates blood throughout the body. In order for our bodies to function normally, we require large amounts of blood to flow through our organs and systems at all times.

    Like any other muscle in the body, we must strengthen our heart through physical activity to keep it healthy. The American Heart Association suggests that adults ages 18 to 65 engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity activity for five days per week. Guidelines differ for those over the age of 65, those under the age of 18, and those with chronic conditions or physical limitations.

    For some suggestions on how to introduce physical activity into your life, follow these tips:

    • Set a goal. Many people are motivated by achievement, and keeping a goal in mind as you exercise can make the experience more fulfilling. Make your goal realistic and achievable. If you're just beginning an exercise program, start by exercising 2 to 3 days each week, and make it your goal to engage in activity 4 to 5 days each week after eight weeks. Perhaps your goal is to lower your cholesterol. If so, talk to your doctor about a realistic cholesterol level and the time it should take to get there. Whatever your final destination is, remember how good it will feel to reach the end as you work to make your heart healthier.
    • Try new things. Exercise can be a great way to explore activities you've never tried before. Hiking, skiing, cycling, golf, swimming, jogging, spin biking, surfing and power walking are just a few examples of sports that will make it fun to exercise. If you belong to a fitness center, try a new class or group workout. You'll meet new people and you might even find an activity that you love. By doing something new and exciting, you will never get bored with your workout routine and will look forward to your physical activity.
    • Woman runningUse the buddy system. Having a friend by your side can make exercising even more enjoyable. Friends can motivate you to work hard, remind you of your goals, and provide you with fun and laughter as you work to keep your heart healthy. Even a personal trainer can provide that extra push you sometimes need to achieve your goals. Having one or more friends also opens up more types of physical activity. Tennis, soccer, softball and basketball are just a few examples of heart-friendly activities that many people can engage in.
    • Note your progress. After all you've been doing to make your heart a strong and healthy muscle, make sure that you take the time to give yourself credit. Some people like to keep a log of their workout routines so they can look back and see how they've improved. When you're able to lift that extra five pounds of weight, make sure you write it down. If you're working out with a friend, make a deal with that person. Tell them that when they reach their end goal, you'll take them out to dinner if they will do the same for you. By acknowledging your success, you'll feel great and exercise will be a permanent part of your lifestyle.

    By keeping your heart in good health, you are ensuring that your body has what it needs to function properly. Physical activity is one of the most important ways to increase your heart health and lower your risk for cardiovascular disease. By following these tips and making exercise a regular activity, your heart and other muscles will be happy, healthy and strong.

    For more information about heart health and the risks of cardiovascular disease, visit the Cardiovascular Institute online.