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Heart Health Month: Get Checked, Get Walking!

by Kate Maliha, MA (HKin)

February is heart health month – a great time to start thinking about how to prevent cardiovascular disease by beginning to exercise and improving your lifestyle habits. Some of the risk factors for heart disease include increased age (older than 45 for men, and 55 for women), having a family history of cardiovascular disease such as a parents’ early death from the disease, being sedentary, and smoking. Here are a few ways to check on your own cardiovascular health:

• Find out your measurements: If your body mass index (BMI) is greater than 35, or your waist circumference is greater than 35 inches (women) or 40 inches (men) you should take steps to lose body fat.
• Find out your risk of hypertension: I your blood pressure is 140/90 or greater you should see your doctor to see how you can get it under control.
• Find out your cholesterol levels (LDL cholesterol greater than 130 mg/dL, HDL lower than 40, or total serum cholesterol greater than 200 indicates risk).
• Find out if you have pre-diabetes (fasting plasma glucose greater than 100 mg/dL or impaired glucose tolerance greater than 140 mg/dL).

If you have cardiovascular disease but your symptoms are stable you should check with your health care provider to see if you are able to begin increasing your activity levels. According to the American Council on Exercise (ACE) increasing the total number of steps you take per day is a great way to slowly incorporate more activity into your day. This will allow you to not only get fitter and lose weight, but also decrease your other cardiovascular disease risks. You can pick up an inexpensive pedometer that attaches to your waist (although be careful as they tend to “re-set” themselves when you are bending over) or you can get a more expensive tracker worn as a watch that will tally your daily steps plus track how much sleep you are getting (FitBit is one example). You can also follow these loosely-based guidelines to tally your overall activity:
• 1 mile = approximately 1600-2000 steps, or approximately 80-100 calories.
• Try to increase your overall activity to a minimum of 150 minutes/week of moderate intensity activity (such as brisk walking), and gradually progress to higher amounts of exercise (greater than 280 minutes/week, greater than 2000 calories burned per week, or 10,000 steps per day for very active and able individuals).
However you decide to track your increased levels of activity, beginning a progressive (gradually increasing) walking program is one of the most effective ways to reduce your risk and manage cardiovascular and related diseases. Best of all, it’s enjoyable and easy to begin!

Kate Maliha, MA (HKin) has a Master’s degree in Human Kinetics and has conducted aging research at the University of British Columbia. She is the owner of Love Your Age, a fitness company specializing in the exercise needs of senior.

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