February is known for many things: Ground Hog’s Day, Super Bowl Sunday, President’s Day, and all those hearts for Valentine’s Day. But there’s another heart you should be paying attention to everyday of the year: your heart. You may or may not know that February is American Heart Month, the month-long campaign that aims at raising awareness on heart health and reminding us of the sad heart disease statistic that it is the number killer in the US, responsible for the deaths of 1 in 4 Americans (healthfinder.gov). The good news is that lifestyle habits play a role in heart disease. We all know that a healthy diet is important (high in fruits and vegetables, low in sodium, less processed foods, and so on), and just as crucial is physical activity. By giving your heart, which is a muscle, a workout, it can become stronger and work more efficiently. As always, make sure you talk with your doctor about working out before you begin.
It is recommended for adults to get 150 minutes of cardiovascular exercise per week at a moderate-intensity level. 150 might seem like a lot, but everything adds up! Were you walking around the mall for 20 minutes? Did you walk your dog? Or will you be at the Pasco County fair next week? Lot’s of opportunities for walking there! Of course, structured exercise helps you keep track of your aerobic exercise (ie: 30 minutes of brisk walking on the treadmill, or biking less than 10 mph), but all kinds of movement can count. Gardening, parking far away in the parking lot, cleaning, and taking the stairs are all examples of other ways to get to your 150 minutes per week (American Heart Association, 2018).
The other recommendation for adults is to get 75 minutes of high-intensity cardio. High intensity would be singles tennis, biking over 10 mph, swimming laps, or jumping rope.
To measure your intensity level, do the “talk test.” When doing a moderate-intensity activity, you’ll still be able to talk even though you notice your breathing is faster and your heart is pumping harder. When doing high-intensity activities, it is hard to talk because you are out of breath (American Heart Association, 2018).
If you’re new to physical activity, don’t worry about getting 150 minutes of exercise per week right away. Start slow and gradually work your way up to avoid injuries or overworking your heart.
In addition to helping out your heart, physical activity improves your mood and sleep, lessens risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s, improved balance, and so much more! Do your heart a favor this Valentine’s Day by being less sedentary and moving more all year.
American Heart Association. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/fitness/fitness-basics/aha-recs-for-physical-activity-in-adults
American Heart Month. (2019). Retrieved from https://healthfinder.gov/nho/februarytoolkit.aspx