Keeping Exercise Heart-Healthy in the New Year

Take Charge of Your Heart Health with Exercise

The most significant barrier to exercise is not what to do, but finding the motivation to do it. Experts recommend setting short- and long-term goals, or having a very specific plan in place. What else can you do to keep up your routine?

Focus on perceived exertion.  Perceived exertion relates to a scale that is used to measure the intensity of your exercise. Heart rate can be a fairly inaccurate measure of how hard you’re working, particularly if you’re on medication for your heart. “We recommend the walk-and-talk test to tell if you’re working hard enough,” says Dalene Bott-Kitslaar, RN, MSN, F-CNP, of Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. Basically, you should be working hard enough (whether walking or another activity) that you can’t easily carry on a conversation – you have to stop and catch your breath while talking.

Don’t sell walking short.  Walking can improve the state of cardiac risk factors like cholesterol, blood pressure, vascular stiffness and inflammation, and mental stress.  Measure your daily steps by wearing a pedometer all day, and try to get your step count up to 10,000 per day. Keep bumping the number up by 1,500 steps a day until you reach the goal. Walking this amount each day can make a real difference – and you only need comfortable clothes and a good pair of shoes.

Individualize your routine.  Above all, your exercise should be enjoyable for you! “What works well for one doesn’t work for others,” says Bott-Kitslaar. “Pick something you enjoy. Tap dance – or ballroom dance. As long as you’re moving, your heart is benefiting.” Some women enjoy variety, picking different activities throughout the week to work different muscle groups.

Find a “personal trainer” to stay motivated.  Sometimes this can be a personal trainer at your health club, but use what you have available – Bott-Kitslaar’s “personal trainers” are her dogs, who don’t let her sit down after work without their daily walk. “Find someone or something in your life – your dog, your child, your husband or mother – to motivate you to take care of yourself,” she says. With smartphones at our disposal, there are also a number of online personal training apps, or personalized fitness videos that offer guides from the pros.

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