Champaign, IL—Over 82 million Americans have had a cardiac event or have one or more types of cardiovascular disease (CHD), but simple changes in behavior can have a positive effect on several CHD risk factors. According to Morag Thow, a physiotherapy lecturer specializing in cardiac rehabilitation at Glasgow Caledonian University, one of the major risk factors of heart disease is inactivity. "Smoking, being inactive, and eating an unhealthy diet are all equally damaging to your heart," Thow says. "It is interesting that if we reserve some of these behaviors they actually protect your heart."
In The Healthy Heart Book (Human Kinetics, 2013), Thow outlines the three steps in the activity pyramid and explains how cardiac rehabilitation patients can increase their activity levels.
Sit less! Many people are sedentary (sitting or lying) for more than 7 hours per day (not including sleeping), and many older people sit for longer than 11 hours per day. “Studies of people in the United States and the UK have found that many people sit for 4 to 5 hours without standing at all,” Thow says. “Much of our time sitting is watching television, using computers, driving, talking on the phone, reading, and listening to music.” To break up this pattern of sitting, move more each hour by taking short activity breaks.
- Always choose the active way. In the past, people didn't have to think consciously about being active because they had active jobs and fewer cars. “But in modern times, you must make a conscious choice to have an active life,” Thow says. “Having an active life means you are much less likely to have heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, cancer, osteoporosis, obesity, anxiety, depression, and aches and pains.” Thow advises accumulating 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of moderate-intensity activity per week. “A good way of doing this is 30 minutes of activity per day, preferably every day,” Thow says. “Do at least 10 minutes of activity at a time. But remember that more than 150 minutes per week is even better.”
- Make it balanced and fun. A balanced program involves two or three bouts of exercise per week that improve aerobic fitness, strength, flexibility, balance, and coordination. Thow advises incorporating various types of exercise to get the full benefits. An aerobic fitness class, hill walking, and a gym session can build aerobic fitness, strength, balance, and coordination. Tai chi, yoga, and Pilates can increase strength, flexibility, balance, and coordination. “Performing aerobic exercise two or three times per week is sufficient for developing fitness and achieving all the heart benefits that come with aerobic fitness,” Thow says.
“Increasing your activity levels to more than you are doing at the moment will improve your general stamina, strength, flexibility, and balance,” Thow says. “Any improvements in any of these are beneficial. So sit less and move more and aim to do as much as you can.”
Endorsed by the British Association for Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation, The Healthy Heart Book provides the blueprint for protecting your heart and living a healthy lifestyle. The bookbuilds on the current program information given to cardiac patients and contains tracking tables that are available both in the book and on the web to help patients record their progress and achievements. For more information, see The Healthy Heart Book.