This article is provided by Heart & Stroke. 

How exercise can positively impact your heart health

An exercise physiologist answers questions about physical activity

July 2023

We know getting active and staying active is good for us. Exercise physiologist and CEO of Live Well Exercise Clinic, Sara Hodson, has some information around the real and measurable impacts that exercise has on cardiovascular health. Plus, she has some tips and tricks to help you get motivated to move more, and get friends and family moving with you.

Q: How does exercise help chronic health conditions?

SH: Exercise benefits almost every chronic health condition out there. It’s a powerful tool for prevention, and for treatment and management too. I worked in cardiac rehab for over a decade and it’s fascinating to see how moving your body can reverse and heal the impacts of heart disease. If I take your blood pressure before you do 10 minutes of activity and then after rest, your blood pressure will have gone down—and the effects last for 24 hours. Exercise softens our blood vessels, it allows them to relax, making our blood pressure go down. When our blood pressure goes down, less damage occurs inside our blood vessels so they don’t build up plaque, which can be a precursor to a heart attack.

Q: What is the best time to exercise?

SH: Any time! Move when it’s the best for you and your life.

Q: What are some strategies for getting started on an exercise program?

SH: We ideally need 150 minutes of physical activity a week. But if you’re doing zero minutes, that’s an overwhelming goal. Break it down into smaller chunks. If you can do 10 minutes of exercise before work or after work, start there. Even 10 minutes of low-level exercise has benefits. Those few minutes a day add up, and that can grow to more minutes as you gain confidence and start to enjoy being active.

Q: Is nutrition as effective as exercise?

SH: I always say you can’t outrun a bad diet! There has to be a collaboration between nutrition and activity. I also like to say that a healthier lifestyle is born on a treadmill, not a couch. The evidence tells us that exercise may lead to better decisions when it comes to diet and snacking. For example, if you put in a 20-minute walk, you’re less likely to go and eat a donut. The best way to make a change in your diet and your exercise habits is not to follow a fad diet book or go on a 30-day kick, but make small but meaningful lifestyle changes.

Q: What’s the best mix of exercise type? Is there a ratio of cardio, flexibility work or resistance training I should aim for?

SH: We all have different bodies, needs and goals. It really depends on someone’s mental, physical, and lifestyle goals. I think that ratios are less important than just doing more activity, a variety of activities, making healthier food choices and celebrating small changes. Find things you like to do, mix it up often and consider setting up accountability via a friend that can help keep you on track.

Q: Your muscle mass decreases as you age. What can you do about it?

SH: Weight or resistance training can help build and maintain muscle mass. I’m not talking about using big barbells. You can try using resistance bands and your body as resistance! It’s recommended that people do resistance exercise two-to-three times a week. You may want to work with a qualified exercise professional to help you work through your goals and find exercises that are right for your body and your life. 

Q: It’s great to be able to exercise with your kids. How can you get kids motivated?

SH: Formal exercise often doesn’t mean much to kids. Children respond to play. Try framing it around something fun—do a yoga challenge, get your kids outside to throw a ball around the yard, check out a new playground, or play a rousing game of tag. 

Q: Are virtual fitness classes as effective as in-person ones?

SH: There are pros and cons to both. There is research showing that the social aspect of fitness is a large contributor in people’s commitment to sticking with it. When you meet people in a social environment where you are experiencing physical activity together, others can help keep you motivated. Plus, many people find additional benefits to stepping away from screens to engage in physical activities, including having more time to connect socially, recharging energy and managing stress. That being said, virtual offerings can be easy and accessible, and there are lots of on-demand options to fit your needs. If a virtual fitness is what helps you get into an activity, that’s great! Whether in-person or virtual – find whatever format will help you stay motivated and committed to a more active lifestyle.

For some more ideas and to learn more, check out these articles from Heart & Stroke: 

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