What's the Key to a Woman's Heart? Exercise
There’s no question that we are busier now and that our time is more valuable than ever.
But for women concerned about their health, a half hour a day might be the most valuable time slot of all.
A half hour of exercise, anything from brisk walking, gardening to riding a bike, can go a long way to reversing the risk factors for heart disease, says Michael Stevens, a spokesman for the south-central Pennsylvania chapter of the American Heart Association.
With heart disease ranked as the number one killer of women, double the rate of even breast cancer, proper diet and exercise is crucial, Stevens says.
But if you believe that laboring on an exercise machine for two hours is the only way to make a difference on heart health, don’t sweat it. An honest half hour of exercise will make a difference, especially if a person has a sedentary lifestyle.
“To go from the typical American lifestyle to 30 minutes of walking a day can cut your risk factors considerably,” says Stevens.
The point is to get your heart rate up, says Jason Snyder, health and fitness director of the Harrisburg area YMCA. Raising your heart rate through exercise strengthens your heart, allowing it to better respond to other types of stress.
“If you’re raising your heart rate, and doing it in a proper way, your heart will better react to that stress and become stronger,” says Snyder.
For a long time, heart disease was viewed as an old man’s ailment, one that could easily be diagnosed by looking at someone’s belly hanging over a belt buckle. While obesity plays a factor in heart disease, it is not the only component, says Stevens.
Heart problems strike women and men equally, making it crucial to clear away the stereotypes and misconceptions surrounding the disease. More than 460,000 women die every year from heart disease — about one death per minute, according to the heart association.
“We are seeing women in their 30s with heart problems,” Stevens says.
One of the reasons women are more susceptible to heart disease is because they put the health needs of their families first. That’s why the heart association puts such emphasis on encouraging women to pay attention to their heart health.
Heart disease, which covers a broad range of vascular problems such as strokes and plaque build-up, cannot simply be diagnosed by looking at a person’s body mass. One of the American Heart Association’s goals is to encourage women to “know their numbers.” That means blood pressure and cholesterol. Both are good indicators of possible heart problems.
The second big change to make is diet. One guide to follow is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s food pyramid, which encourages limited fats and sugars, while focusing on whole grains and fruits and vegetables.
Also limiting sodium is a wise choice because salt can lead to high blood pressure, Snyder says.
When women are looking at dieting, they should not think of it as depriving themselves for short-term gains. Instead, it comes down to making lifestyle choices — choosing whole grain foods and lowfat items that will help to slowly and sensibly take off the pounds, Stevens says.
Choosing a better diet, along with exercise, puts women on the right track to beating heart disease.
“There are lifestyle choices that we can change to make a healthier heart,” Stevens says. “For one hour of moderate exercise, you gain two hours of life expectancy. It has a snowball effect.”
Darrin Youker is the father of two and a reporter who lives in Reading.