When it comes to preventing cardiovascular disease, fitness is a powerful weapon. That’s because a sedentary lifestyle is one of the risk factors for heart disease.
According to Marla Mendelson, MD, cardiologist and medical director of the Program for Women’s Cardiovascular Health at Northwestern’s Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute in Chicago, Illinois, every woman should make fitness a top priority in her life. “Fitness works on several risk factors, keeping weight down, keeping cholesterol down, keeping blood pressure down,” says Mendelson. “It actually makes the body more efficient in the extraction of oxygen, and therefore the heart doesn’t have to work as hard.”
Plus, she adds, it gets you up and moving – something most women in America could use more of. Here, Mendelson shares 10 tips for preventing heart disease through fitness.
1. Talk to your doctor
Before beginning a new routine, ask if you have any limitations and find out if there are types of exercise you should avoid.
2. Find an activity you enjoy
There are countless options out there that raise the heart rate – swimming, dancing, cycling, Zumba and more. While you want the activity to be strenuous, keep it at a level where you can hold a conversation while working out. Aim to exercise three to five hours a week.
Everyone on the planet should be walking at least 30 minutes every day. It doesn’t have to be all at once – you can do three sets of 10 minutes or two sets of 15 minutes – but this keeps you moving and makes you less sedentary. Plus, it might even keep you from eating something that could raise your cholesterol.
4. Reap the rewards
Exercise probably has more benefits above the neck than below. It’s a great stress reducer – far better than smoking, alcohol and chocolate. Remembering that can be a great motivator to stick with your routine.
5. Fit it into your schedule
Exercise has a half-life. The relaxing benefits, lowered blood pressure and other perks stick around for about 48 hours. After that, you’ll need to get another exercise “fix” to keep the perks going.
6. Small steps add up
Working out doesn’t have to be an event. It doesn’t even have to involve changing your clothes. It can be as simple as walking around during your child’s soccer game, rather than sitting in a chair and eating potato chips. Take the stairs instead of an escalator. Park further back at the mall. When you see opportunities to move, take advantage.
7. Set an example
Go on a family bike ride or a family walk. Turn date night into exercise night. Fitness can be contagious. Plus, it’s more fun when others join in.
8. There is no exercise bank
So you say you ran a marathon two years ago? What did you do two days ago? The benefits of exercise don’t last forever. You’ve got to keep replenishing your account.
9. Thin people need to exercise too
Those who aren’t overweight are often the most resistant to exercise. But just because you don’t have excess fat, doesn’t mean you’re in good shape. People of all sizes should make fitness a priority.
10. Fitness is not an issue of vanity
It’s an issue of health. Many women struggle to make time for themselves to exercise because they equate getting in shape with appearance. If you broke your arm, you would go to physical therapy. If you have a cardiac problem and exercise is prescribed to you, it is just as important.
Kate Silver is an award-winning journalist based in Chicago. Her work has appeared in Washington Post, Men’s Health, Chicago Tribune and other online and print publications.