After a hard day of work in the office or wherever your job may be, it can be difficult to have any ambition left to go out and exercise. I think that it’s fair to say that everyone knows that it’s important to include physical activity and exercise in your day, but knowing that and doing it are two very different things. However, February is Heart Month so it’s a good time to think about the health of your heart! Among the many benefits of physical activity, improving the health of your heart is one of the most important ones.
Not convinced? Some of the ways that physical activity can improve the health of your heart include:
- Preventing high blood pressure
- Improving cholesterol levels
- Reducing stress
- Improving sleep
- Improving circulation (which is especially important for older adults)
- Reducing the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes
For those of you who don’t regularly engage in physical activity, there is good news! Research has shown that the greatest improvements in cardiovascular health can be seen in those who change from sedentary to more active lifestyles. This means that it is never too late to get up and start moving, and that your heart will thank you for doing so!
Some people may find the thought of exercising or working out to be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be that way! Studies have shown that many different forms of physical activity can improve your cardiovascular health; it’s about meeting yourself where you’re at and going forward from there. One study showed that exercise in the form of regular physical activity incorporated into everyday living was equally effective at improving cardiovascular health when compared to structured exercise regimens.
Speaking from my experience, I know that regular exercise can be an extremely difficult thing to do and that ambitious intentions can often lead to big disappointments. As a person who has tried very hard to exercise regularly for the past several years and has encountered both challenges and successes, here are my tips to help you become active more regularly and to become a healthier, happier version of yourself:
- Don’t like it? Don’t do it! Many people I know think that jogging, running, or going on the treadmill or elliptical machine is the ultimate form of exercise for your heart. I disagree! Any activity that increases your heart rate and makes you breathe harder is a cardiovascular workout with the same benefits for your heart! If you’re like me and aren’t a fan of running or elliptical machines, some great forms of cardiovascular exercise that I would suggest are brisk walking, hiking, paddling, bike riding, swimming, snowshoeing, and weight lifting with weights that are light enough for you to do a high number of repetitions. Make sure that whatever you’re doing, you’re enjoying it!
- Don’t use the scale to measure your success. Your weight is not the best way to measure your health. Healthy bodies exist in a diversity of shapes and sizes! Although physical activity can help you to achieve a healthy weight, there are many other, more important benefits of physical activity for your body.
- Set realistic, SMART goals. Realize that a small amount of physical activity done regularly is much more beneficial to your health in the long run than short-lived fads of intense exercise.
- Environmental changes. Once you have the desire to become more active, the next step should be to implement a few small environmental changes to help ensure that you get active by being more organized and making physical activity more convenient. Examples of this would be throwing your running shoes in the car so that you can go for a walk on lunch break, signing up for a gym that is close to your home or on the way from your home to work, or packing your bag with whatever you will need for your activity the next day and putting it right by the door.
- Find an exercise buddy. Exercising with a friend can not only make your activity more social and enjoyable, but they can often help you get out and be active on those days when you’re not feeling motivated to do so (and you’ll have the same impact on them!). I have often found that when my workout buddy drags me out for exercise on those days when I’m experiencing low energy and low motivation, I come home feeling much better than I ever did before exercising.
Visit the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology for information on Canada’s Physical Activity Guidelines or visit the Heart & Stroke Foundation for more information about Heart Month and cardiovascular health.
About Zachary Kohlen
Zachary Kohlen is a fourth year nursing student at UNBC in Prince George. He is currently completing a practicum for Community Health & Nursing with the Population Health team. Prince George is home to Zack, as he has lived here for the past 14 years. Other than homework and studying, he enjoys snowboarding, swimming, golfing, weight training, hiking and camping. Zack has had the opportunity to take part in a number of health promotion activities with the Northern Health team for the 2015 Canada Winter Games.