We know that physical activity is good for the heart and mind, yet cardiovascular disease accounts for more deaths in Canada than any other, according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada. Thirty-four per cent of all female deaths in 2002 were due to cardiovascular disease.
The benefits of exercise
Aerobic activity is one of the best ways to fight heart disease, says Lisa Fenton, a fitness specialist in Toronto. "It burns calories to achieve and maintain a healthy weight, it lowers blood pressure, it increases cardiac output, which means more blood is pumped with each heart beat, it decreases resting heart rate so there's less stress on your heart, and it lowers the build-up of plaque in the arteries."
Physical activity is also enjoyable, says Dr. Bob Haennel, professor and chair of physical therapy in the faculty of rehabilitation medicine at the University of Alberta. "When you've done something like walking or swimming or cycling, you usually feel pretty good afterwards," he explains.
The right activity for you
The most important thing is to find an activity that you enjoy and one that is accessible.
1. Walking/running: The most popular of all activities, walking doesn't require any specialized equipment and is perfect for cardiac patients, says Haennel. In the winter, do a mall walk or walk in your apartment complex -- the location doesn't matter as long as you keep moving. Running will burn double the calories of walking but it's tougher on your joints. "Buy the best running shoes you can afford," says Fenton. "Shop at a store that fits you properly for your foot and activity."
2. Swimming: "It's a whole-body exercise, so you're getting some muscular strength and endurance, as well," says Haennel. "If you have a problem with weight control, the pool is an appropriate place to start as it's easier on the joints." It's also a good alternative for those with arthritic or orthopedic problems.
3. Skipping rope: This inexpensive and portable exercise is a great conditioner and builds coordination, but it can be tough on feet, ankles, knees and back. If you have orthopedic problems, Haennel doesn't suggest it.
4. Biking/spinning: "Anyone can benefit from a cycle program, indoors or out," says Fenton. "During spin or cycle classes, you go at your own pace and are able to control the resistance to suit your fitness level." Outdoor cycling combines fitness and fun, and can be easily worked into your day, such as commuting to work. Stationary bikes allow you to exercise in the privacy of your home, but Haennel suggests placing the bike by a stereo or television -- something that occupies your mind. Have a fan nearby to circulate air.
5. Cross-country skiing: An aerobic exercise that takes advantage of our Canadian weather is a Godsend. As it uses your body's natural movement, skiing is relatively easy to learn and has a low injury rate, says Fenton. Head to a wooded trail or glide through the park to increase muscle endurance and to work your upper and lower body, heart and lungs.
Page 1 of 2 – on page two: how to get started with cardio workouts.
The best way to start, and stick with, an activity is to fit it into your lifestyle. Find a time of day that works best for you and build slowly and gradually. Fenton suggests following the FIT plan to design your program:
Frequency: three to five times a week.
Intensity: hard enough to reach your target heart rate but still able to talk. (To calculate your maximum heart rate, subtract your age from 220. Your target heart rate is 60 to 80 percent of the maximum heart rate.)
Time: Thirty to 60 minutes, with at least 20 minutes of aerobic activity in each session.
If you have a medical problem, have been inactive, are overweight, or are middle-aged or elderly, be sure to get clearance from your physician before starting any program. For advice on how to do a certain exercise, see a professional fitness and lifestyle consultant, suggests Haennel.
Always start with a five- to 10-minute warm up, says Fenton. "A warm up can be as simple as performing the exercise at a relaxed pace, allowing the blood to flow to the muscles." Include a cool-down period at the end of the program. Fenton suggests spacing your workouts to allow the body to recover and rebuild.
"Always listen to your body," adds Haennel. "If you're finding that you're not tired when you're done or you're feeling like you're not getting a lot out of it, you're probably not doing enough. If, on the other hand, you're worn out or fatigued, you're probably working too hard."
A great way to keep up your program is to involve others -- your partner, kids, even the dog. If someone is depending on you, you're less likely to skip a workout. Plus, says Haennel, "It becomes a social thing, and that is very valuable." Set realistic goals, establish a schedule and treat your workout like any other important appointment, adds Fenton. And if you need a break, take one. You'll likely come back to the activity refreshed.
"Whether you have blood pressure problems, cholesterol problems, diabetes, whatever, exercise has a positive impact," says Haennel. "For people who are healthy, it's important. For people who have health problems, it's even more important that they be active."
Page 2 of 2 -- on page 1: Learn what 5 workouts are best for your cardiovascular