By: Alex Barrett
Take a second to think about the lifestyle of immediate and extended family members. Are they physically active? Is there history of heart disease, hypertension, and/or coronary artery disease? Chances are the answer is yes. The Center for Disease Control reports that heart disease is the number one cause of death for both men and women in the United States. What can be done about such an alarming problem? Is society doing enough to help prevent this frightening statistic?
Physical inactivity is the top heart disease risk factor. Therefore, it is imperative to drastically increase the activity levels of Americans. Many adults are unaware of the recommended physical activity minutes per week. Currently, the government states that adults should perform at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week to lower the risk of premature death, coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes. For additional benefits such as lower risk of colon cancer, breast cancer, and unhealthy weight gain, the government recommends that adults should perform at least 300 minutes of activity a week (health.gov). While these numbers and benefits sound appealing, it seems like more needs to be done considering that close to 800,000 Americans have their first heart attack each year (Healthline). The minimum amount of exercise is no longer enough to keep people’s hearts healthy enough for a lasting good quality of life.
Research has found that physical activity and heart failure is considered a “dose dependant” relationship. Therefore, the more physically active a person is, the lower their risk of heart failure (Washington Post). That means the 53% of Americans who said they do not participate in physical activity have a much higher risk of experiencing heart failure. The most important thing is to get the body moving, whether it be in increments of 10 minutes or a full hour of exercise. If time is an issue, no worries! There are short but very effective workouts such as HIIT (high intensity interval training) that fit easily into a busy schedule. This and other vigorous exercise is equivalent to performing two minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, still granting the heart all of the benefits. Cardiovascular exercise is not the only helper on the journey towards a healthier heart. Lifting weights has been shown to reduce heart-disease risk by about 25% (Health). Given the wide variety of exercise types to choose from, there is no excuse not to add it to a daily routine.
Despite the information on how much to exercise and what types of exercise count, such a severe risk of heart disease still dominates American women and men. Think about what the average person does on a daily basis outside of that recommended 150 minutes per week. Perhaps it is not just about structured exercise, but simply moving more often throughout the day. Many people commute to and from work sitting in the car and spend most of their work day immobile at a desk. Taking a break to walk around for several minutes each hour, or taking the stairs rather than the elevator is an easy way for people in these situations to get more active minutes in their day. Parking the car further away at the store instead of the closest spot will allow for an increase in activity level, all benefiting the heart! Gardening or playing a friendly game of basketball on a nice day instead of sitting inside on the computer are also excellent ways to increase activity levels without participating in structured exercise. The options are limitless!
Take inventory of those immediate and extended family members who are suffering from heart disease and let it be a reminder to make physical activity a part of each day. If individuals create a lifestyle where they are not only participating in structured exercise, but moving their bodies more often, there is far more opportunity to take care of the most important muscle in the body; the heart.