25 June, 2008

Fitness for Healthy Heart

Exercise lowers the risk of coronary heart disease, cuts bad cholesterol and blood sugar. Read Prevention’s guide to know the safest way.

If there is one way (other than the right diet) to make your heart stronger, it’s exercise. If you have a family history, a mild cardiac condition or simply the desire to protect your heart and make it healthier, upload this.

There is scientific evidence to prove that exercise is good for patients with heart failure. It not only reduces the symptoms, allowing patients to live more active lives, but also reverses some of the harmful hormonal changes that take place as the body attempts to compensate for a weakened heart.

Regular exercise also lowers the risk of coronary heart disease. “People who maintain an active lifestyle have a 45% lower risk of developing heart disease compared to those who lead sedentary lives,” says Dr S C Manchanda, senior consultant cardiologist, Sir Gangaram Hospital, Delhi and Prevention advisor.

He reminds us that exercise lowers bad cholesterol or LDL and triglycerides, and increases good cholesterol or HDL. Blood pressure, sugar and obesity are slashed by regular exercise. “Combining it with yoga will help reduce stress,’’ he adds.

If you have a heart history, talk to your doctor about the following before starting an exercise programme:

Medication changes New medication can greatly affect your response to exercise; your doctor can tell you if your normal exercise routine is still safe.

Lifting heavy objects Make sure that lifting or pushing heavy objects and chores such as, mowing the lawn, and sweeping the floor aren’t off limits. Chores around the house can be tiring; ensure that you only do what you are able to do without getting tired.

Safe exercises Learn how to find the right intensity of exercise. It is best if you could chalk out your exercise regimen with your doctor. Get the doctor’s approval before you lift weights, use a weight machine, jog, or swim. Visit a library or bookstore for information on exercise programmes.

To improve your aerobic power, you do not need to submit yourself to strenuous and hectic exercise. In fact, an intensity of exercise called conversational exercise (where you can comfortably have a conversation while you are exercising) can be very beneficial.

Here are some exercises that improve heart health.

The stretches

Stretching the arms and legs before and after exercising helps prepare muscles for activity and prevents injury and muscle strain. Regular stretching also increases your range of motion and flexibility. While performing these exercises, make sure your movements are controlled and slow. Stretch until a gentle pull is felt in your muscle. Hold each stretch without wobbling or feeling pain for 20 to 30 seconds. Do not hold your breath during these exercises. Various types of stretches you can try:

Hamstring stretch While standing, place one foot on a stool or chair, your leg and knee stretched out and hold onto a wall for balance.

Slowly lean forward, keeping your back straight and reach one hand down your shin until you feel a stretch in the back of your thigh. Relax and then repeat with the other leg.

Quadriceps stretch Stand facing a wall, placing one hand against it for support. Bend one knee, grasping your ankle with the other hand and pulling your leg behind you. Try to touch your heel to your buttock. Relax and then repeat with your other leg.

Calf stretch Stand facing the wall with your hands against it for support. Put one foot about 12 inches in front of the other. Bend your front knee and keep your other leg straight. (Keep both heels on the floor). To prevent an injury, do not let your bent knee extend forward past your toes. Slowly lean forward until you feel a mild stretch in the calf of your straight leg. Relax and then repeat with the other leg.

Knee Pull Lie on your back and flatten the small of your back onto the floor. Bend one knee and pull your bent leg towards your chest, until you feel a pull in your lower back. Try to keep your head on the floor, but do not strain yourself. Gently lower your leg, and then repeat with the other leg.

Overhead arm pull Lock your fingers together, with your palms facing out (or hold onto a towel so your hands are shoulder-width apart). Extend your arms out in front of you with your elbows straight. Lift your arms to shoulder height. Raise your arms overhead until you feel a gentle pull in your chest or shoulders.

Behind back arm raise At waist level, put your hands behind your back, locking your fingers together (or hold onto a towel so your hands are shoulder-width apart). Straighten your elbows and raise your arms upward until you feel a gentle pull in your chest or shoulders.

Side bend Stand straight with your legs about shoulder-width apart. Reach over your head with one arm, elbow bent, sliding the opposite arm and hand down your thigh, towards your knee. Hold the stretch until you feel a gentle pull at your side. Repeat with other side.

Double shoulder circles Bend your elbows so that your fingertips rest on your shoulders. Rotate your shoulders and elbows clockwise, then anti-clockwise, as if drawing large circles. Repeat in each direction.

Leg circles Hold onto a chair or a table for balance.

Lift one leg straight behind you, keeping both knees straight. Rotate your leg clockwise, then anti-clockwise, as if drawing small circles with your foot. (You should feel the movement at your hip joint). Repeat each direction, with each leg.

Cardio Workouts

Cardiovascular or dynamic exercise involves steady, physical activity using large muscle groups. This type of exercise strengthens the heart and lungs and improves the body’s ability to use oxygen. Over a period of time, cardio exercises can help decrease your heart rate, blood pressure and improve your breathing. Aerobic exercises include walking, jogging, jumping the rope, bicycling (stationary or outdoors), skating, rowing and low-impact water aerobics.

Cycling Bicycle rides improve the heart’s size and pumping ability in patients with stable heart failure (who have had a history of heart failure).

Countless exercise programmes claim to trim the thighs, abs and buttocks, but how many offer to re-shape a flabby heart? According to new research, aerobic exercises do just that for patients with stable heart failure, literally turning an enlarged heart into a trimmer, more efficient organ.

Walking The New England Journal of Medicine has reported that walking three hours a week can reduce women’s risk of a heart attack by 40% and walking more than five hours a week can slash their risk by 50%. It is a moderate form of physical exercise which also helps reduce the amount of bad cholesterol. Walking the treadmill will also reap similar health benefits. Take care to walk at a speed and intensity, suggested by your doctor.

Swimming It is an excellent aerobic activity that uses almost all muscle groups. “It makes the heart stronger, making it pump more blood per beat. But take care, a higher intensity may prove harmful,’’ says Dr Mahesh Jukar, sports medicine consultant, L H Hiranandani Hospital, Mumbai. In addition, the buoyancy factor makes this activity almost injury-proof. Swimming for three hours a week amounts to moderate physical exercise which— studies done at the National Public Health Institute, Finland show—can cut the risk of death by heart failure in people suffering from type 2 diabetes.

What kind of exercise is good?

Studies show that when patients with heart failure did aerobic exercises several times a week, the oversized heart became significantly smaller and pumped blood more efficiently. Researchers were surprised to find that those who added weight lifting to the exercise routine to enhance muscle strength did not enjoy a similar improvement in the heart’s size or function.

Work out on elliptical exercise machines

Elliptical trainers have great features which are not easily found in other types of home-exercise equipment. You are sure to get a low-impact, cardio-friendly, total-body workout.

Their low-impact design also prevents injuries. Some people compare the workout they get on elliptical exercise machines to pedalling on a stationary bike while standing up. Since you can adjust the incline, speed and other factors, you can maximise the cardio impact of the exercise, making elliptical trainers more effective than weight lifting and leg presses.

The DOs of a safe workout

See your doc

+Get a thorough medical check-up before starting an exercise programme.
+Check your pulse frequently or wear a heart rate monitor and keep your pulse within the parameters your doctor sets.

Be careful while working out

+Wear comfortable clothes and flat shoes with laces, or sneakers.
+Start slowly. Gradually build up to at least 30 minutes of activity, five or more times per week (or whatever y our doctor recommends). If you don’t have a full 30 minutes, try two 15-minute sessions or three 10-minute sessions.
+Exercise at the same time of the day so that it becomes a habit.
+Ask family and friends to join you. That way you’ll stick to your routine.
+Go for variety. Walk one day, swim the next, bike on the weekend to stay motivated and loyal to your regimen.

At home

Drink a cup of water before, during and after exercising (but check with the doctor, because some people need to limit their fluid intake).

Maintain an exercise journal. Write down how much you worked out, how you felt after each session.

Be active through the day. Walk the mall before shopping; choose stairs over an escalator; or take 10-15 minute walking breaks while watching TV.

...And the DON’Ts

Avoid exercising outdoors in extreme conditions such as high temperatures, humidity and poor air quality.

Avoid isometric exercises that require holding your breath, such as push-ups.

Don’t take hot or cold showers or sauna baths after exercising.

Avoid heavy weight lifting. If you develop palpitations, chest pain, difficulty in breathing, or dizziness stop exercising and rest. Call your doctor if symptoms don’t go away in some time.

Keep a gap of three to four hours between your meals and workout.

This article written by Kiran Sawhney was published in Prevention magazine and can also be found at


1 comment:

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