Life is sweet at home

Healthy Choices Contribute to Heart Health

Valerie Washington trains seniors.

Valerie Washington trains seniors.

Want to see a scary number?

Collectively, cardiovascular disease (including stroke), cancer, and diabetes account for approximately two thirds of all deaths in the United States and about $700 billion in direct and indirect economic costs each year. 

That’s right and that is why most of us know someone who currently suffers or died from one of the above Big Three. The sad part is that these friends and loved ones could have possibly prevented or headed off these diseases if they had followed a few simple steps for healthy living and early detection.

Frustrated with people not being aware of their choices, a trio of heavy hitters has developed a simple, practical website to share information. The American Diabetes Association, the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society recommend a formula for healthy living based on these principles: Eat Right, Get Active, Stop Smoking, See your Doctor.

Working on core strength and endurance is good for the heart.

Working on core strength and endurance is good for the heart.

Although the website at does a great job of simplifying all of these steps, in my blog during Heart Health Month, we will focus on Get Active.

Physical Activity

We may wonder “What can physical activity do for me?”

According to personal Trainer Valerie Washington of Kirkland, Wash., exercise is one of the most important elements contributing to overall quality of life. It allows the blood to pump more efficiently and, as a result, carry more oxygen and nutrients to every cell in our bodies.

The owner of New Fitness Lifestyle and senior fitness expert, 65-year-old Washington encourages cardiovascular health during every workout by giving the heart muscle what it needs to do everyday work, “We mimic what the heart does, it works for short periods of time very hard and then recovers during easier tasks.

Weights are an important component of overall fitness.

Weights are an important component of overall fitness.

This form of exercise is called HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training). By walking briskly, for example, for two minutes, followed by two-to-five minutes of strolling, the heart increases its strength and endurance. Interval training can be used as an adjunct to almost any kind of physical activity including walking, swimming, running, cycling and hiking.

Benefits of exercise list:

  • Helps keep your blood glucose, blood pressure, HDL cholesterol and triglycerides on target
  • Lowers your risk for pre-diabetes, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke
  • Relieves stress
  • Strengthens your heart, muscles and bones
  • Improves your blood circulation and tones your muscles
  • Keeps your body and your joints flexible

One of the most encouraging facts to come out of recent research is that like the hair tonic ad of decades past, “A little dab will do ya!” Yep, even if you’ve never exercised before, you can find ways to add physical activity to your day and you will get benefits, even if your activities aren’t strenuous.

What Kinds of Physical Activity are Best?

Planks build the all-important core fitness.

Planks build the all-important core fitness.

Washington regularly incorporates these four exercise pillars into most every workout to enhance overall health.

Aerobic Exercise

What’s not to like about aerobic exercise? Aerobic exercise makes your heart and bones strong, relieves stress and improves blood circulation. It also lowers your risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke by keeping your blood glucose, blood pressure and cholesterol levels on target. Aim for about 30 minutes a day, at least 5 days a week.

If you haven’t been very active recently, start out with 5 or 10 minutes a day. Then work up to more time each week. Or split up your activity for the day—try a brisk 10-minute walk three times each day. If you’re trying to lose weight, you may want to aim for more than 30 minutes a day.

Here are some ways to get aerobic exercise:

  • Take a brisk walk every day
  • Go dancing or take a dance aerobics class
  • Swim or do water aerobics
  • Take a bicycle ride outdoors or use a stationary bicycle indoors

Strength Training

Strength training helps build strong bones and muscles and makes everyday chores like carrying groceries easier. With more muscle, you burn more calories, even at rest. Do your strength routine several times a week.

Here are some ways to do strength training:

  • Lift light weights at home
  • Join a class that uses weights, elastic bands, or plastic tubes
  • When you travel, make time to use the hotel fitness center. Or bring lightweight, easy to pack resistance bands with you

Flexibility Exercises

Flexibility exercises, also called stretching, help keep your joints limber and lower your chances of getting hurt. Gentle stretching for 5 to 10 minutes helps your body warm up and get ready for activities and cool down afterwards.

How to Get Started and Stay Active

Choose one or two things you’d like to try to get started. Then set a realistic, achievable plan to make it happen. It is also a good idea to keep track of your activity. You might keep an exercise journal or enlist the help of an online activity tracker to log and record your progress.

For many people, it is really helpful to have an exercise buddy or attend group fitness classes to add the extra dimensions of fun and social support. As your confidence increases, consider joining a walking group at the local “Y” or participating in fun walks in your community.

Keep at it. Your greatest wealth is your health.

What do you do to keep heart healthy?