Keeping your heart happy

1 in 3 Australians are affected by Heart Disease...

Heart Disease affects 4 times more women than Breast Cancer...

And the biggest kicker! It is largely preventable! We are going to explore a little bit about heart disease or Cardiovascular Disease, the risk factors you can control and proactive ways to stay active and keep your heart happy. 

90% of Australians have at least one risk factor for Heart Disease. Risk factors include:

  • Family History
  • Age
  • Gender
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • High Cholesterol
  • Physical Inactivity
  • Being overweight or obese

Some things you can't change, but changing your lifestyle choices is the best way of reducing your chance of heart disease.

When compared with being on a host of different prescription medications with varying side effects exercise has been shown to positively affect a lot of the risk factors for heart disease. Imagine if your doctor pulled out the prescription pad and wrote down 30minutes of walking 5 days a week to lower your blood pressure, control your blood glucose levels, decrease your waist circumference, elevate your mood, lower your cholesterol.... Not many medications can claim to offer all of these benefits in one hit. And what are the side effects of this "exercise" I can hear you saying. There must be a catch!

Side effects:

  • you may get a little hot a sweaty
  • you may have some muscle soreness for a day or two, but this isn't as severe the more regularly you walk

All in all looks pretty good to me so I know you have jumped off the couch and slipped your sneakers on thinking "Ok Exercise is good for me and will keep my heart happy!" Now the next question I always get asked if what type of exercise. For heart health, aerobic moderate intensity exercise most days of the week for at least 30mins is recommended. Aerobic exercise is anything that gets your heart rate up and breathing up a little bit, great examples of this are walking, running, swimming and cycling. In addition to this aim for 2 days of strength training this can be using weights, body weight exercises or resistance bands.

The second question I usually get is what intensity should I be working at and should I be doing high intensity interval training which is all over the news. For Aerobic exercise you can opt for either 30-60mins of moderate intensity exercise or 20mins of vigorous intensity exercise. Moderate intensity increase your heart and breathing but you should still be able to talk to someone. If you rated it on a scale of 1 to 10 it would fall about 5-6/10. Vigorous intensity exercise is when you are working a bit harder and you wouldn't be able to talk easily. If you rated your intensity it would be 7-8/10. You generally will only do vigorous intensity exercise for shorter time periods or short bursts like when you are doing high intensity interval training. High intensity interval training is a great tool to workout more efficiently. Usually you will exercise for a shorter time period but push yourself a little harder in that time. A great example of this is being on a stationary bike and cycling hard for 30s, moderate of 60s and repeating this for 15-20mins. If you are a bit more deconditioned and not used to exercising a lot it is better to start with moderate intensity exercise and wok your way up to more vigorous exercise. There has also been research come out to say that in a controlled environment it can be safe to complete interval training with people who have heart conditions. I will stress though the importance of working with a trained health professional such as an Exercise Physiologist if you have a history of heart health issues to ensure you are working at a safe intensity for your current fitness and health status.

Top 10 Heart Healthy Exercises:

  1. Walking, even better get outdoors. Around Sydney we are blessed with some amazing bush tracks even in the heart of the city. Get out there with a friend and have a good chat along the way and you will forget you are exercising
  2. Cycling: on a bike outdoors or stationary bike in the gym. A little kinder on the joints as well.
  3. Swimming: one of my favourites whether you go for a paddle in a local ocean pool or community pool. Aim for a set number of laps and set yourself some goals for each session (i.e.. swimming 5 laps without stopping)
  4. Running: there is a fun run and opportunities to start running everywhere you look these days. My personal favourite is running with CanToo who also fundraise for cancer research
  5. Stair climbing: whether you go for a few laps up and down your stairs at home or find a killer staircase on your walk stair climbing is a great way to increase your heart rate and build strength in your legs.
  6. Get your steps up: Aim for 10000 steps per day. Studies have shown that even if you get in your 30-60min workout, if you the sit all day the benefits you got from this workout can be negated. Sit Less and Move More!
  7. Join in a social team sport. Oztag or Touch football is a great way to get the heart rate up and build in some interval style exercise while having a chance to catch up with friends
  8. Find an outdoor fitness class like our RunStrong class which will have you moving through strength circuits keeping your heart rate up and adding in some interval sprints.
  9. Aqua Aerobics: after something a little gentler on your joints while still keeping your heart happy. Aqua is a great exercise for this.
  10. Get a puppy dog: although a large responsibility, these little furry friends will keep you lacing on your sneakers and out walking.