You’ve probably heard it countless times before: that exercise is one of the key components to maintaining healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels — both of which are linked to your heart health. But before you ignore this nugget of wisdom and sink into your couch cushions for an evening in front of the TV, consider the facts: heart disease is the No. 1 killer of both men and women in the United States. What’s more, high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels often come with little to no warning signs.
When taking all these facts into consideration, it’s clear that paying attention to your blood pressure and cholesterol levels is downright essential. Fortunately, if your numbers are higher than they should be, there are many options. With regular exercise and a healthy diet, you can change your numbers for the better.
Reasons Why Exercise is Important
One of the best ways to reach healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels is by achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. It’s well-known that physical activity (along with good nutrition) is a major factor in helping with weight loss. Doing something is better than doing nothing. Other benefits of exercise are:
- Boosting endorphins and balancing neurotransmitters that help to reduce stress (another contributing factor to high blood pressure and cholesterol).
- Strengthening and conditioning your heart and arteries which can heal even after years of neglect.
- Building skeletal muscle which, in turn will raise your metabolism and help you burn additional calories throughout the day. Strength training also assists with your balance and can reduce your risk of falls.
- Improving fatigue and giving you more energy
As an added bonus, if you’re currently being treated for hypertension (high blood pressure), exercise often helps reduce or eliminate the need for medication.
Finding the Best Exercises for You
If you have a chronic health condition, speak with your physician before you get started with an exercise plan. Your physician may recommend certain types of activities to focus on or avoid, or suggest other safety precautions.
If you’re in generally good health — or after you’ve received the go-ahead from your doctor — it’s time to put your workout plan into action. Keep in mind you don’t have to stick to traditional forms of exercise like jogging. Aim to do an activity you enjoy, such as biking, hiking, playing tennis, doing yard work, etc. Do what you like to do!
How much weekly exercise is needed to achieve lasting health benefits? A good rule of thumb is to do something, anything, more often! Any type of moderate activity for at least 150 minutes a week (or more!) is the general bare minimum for health. The American Heart Association (AHA) also recommends including some strength training to help build muscle mass.
How do you know if you’re working hard enough? According to the AHA, if you can sing or carry on a full conversation during your exercise, you should probably pick up the pace. Conversely, if you need to frequently stop to catch your breath, you may want to take it down a notch or two. You’re in the sweet spot for your exercise intensity level if you can say short sentences, but not much more.
Warming up before you start exercising and cooling down afterwards is important. This will give your heart more time to adjust from its resting heart rate to its active heart rate. Your warm-up and cool-down can also help prevent tendon, ligament, and muscle injuries, such as easy walking for 5-10 minutes before and after your activity. If you choose to stretch, do this after exercising.
While exercising, be sure to pay attention to how you feel. If you experience dizziness or lightheadedness, shortness of breath, or pain in your chest, shoulder, neck, jaw or arm, stop exercising and rest. Be sure to call your doctor if symptoms persist.
Key Points for Better Health
Here’s what you need to know in a nutshell: Get your blood pressure, glucose and cholesterol levels checked regularly (every 1-3 years for most people), exercise regularly, and eat a reasonably healthful diet. Within a few weeks of starting on the path to wellness, you will see a positive difference in your numbers and start feeling better. Don’t delay — get active today!