How Much Exercise For Boosting Heart Health?

Exercise is one of the key methods for lowering cholesterol – and blood pressure, my new concern — without medications. So to reduce my blood pressure and to continue to keep my cholesterol in check without any meds, I’ve been wondering just how much, how hard, and how often I need to exercise.

In researching, I found this nifty chart from the American Heart Association. It’s a little busy, but the key is the bottom-most graphic, which is for lowering cholesterol and blood pressure (how handy that they are together goal-wise!)

Apparently, to lower cholesterol and blood pressure, one needs to exercise for an average of 40 minutes at a ‘moderate-to-vigorous-intensity aerobic activity’ 3-4 days each week.

AHA Exercise Guidelines

Which sounds like kind of a lot, people.

I mean, I can jog for 20 minutes before my knees hurt – but certainly not 40 minutes (I was awed when my 21 year old son ran the Chicago marathon in 3 hours and 49 minutes. I still can’t believe he did that / that anyone can run for that long!).  So, um, 40 minutes of ‘moderate-to-vigorous’ exercise 3-4 times a week sounds like a LOT to me.

So obviously, the key question is – what is ‘moderate-to-vigorous-intensity’ aerobic activity?

To me, moderate-vigorous seems like it’d be exercise that gets my heart rate to hit at about 70-85% of my Max Heart Rate (for me, that’s 140-154 or so). If you want to know more about setting a personal heart rate goal, read How To Set A Simple Heart Rate Goal. But is that moderate or is that vigorous?

Luckily, the American Heart Association had a post that answered that exact question: Moderate to Vigorous – What is your level of intensity?  The AHA defines moderate and vigorous exercise as follows (link to the article for more detailed, pretty interesting info):

Examples of Moderate Intensity:

  • Walking briskly (3 miles per hour or faster, but not race-walking)
  • Water aerobics
  • Bicycling slower than 10 miles per hour
  • Tennis (doubles)
  • Ballroom dancing
  • General gardening

Examples of Vigorous Intensity:

  • Race walking, jogging, or running
  • Swimming laps
  • Tennis (singles)
  • Aerobic dancing
  • Bicycling 10 miles per hour or faster
  • Jumping rope
  • Heavy gardening (continuous digging or hoeing)
  • Hiking uphill or with a heavy backpack

Whew. I can walk quickly for 40 minutes to count as heart-healthy exercise. Yay – that’s one I can actually do!  But walking is kind of boring to me – and 40 minutes still feels like a lot of time.

So I need another option. One that’s vigorous but doesn’t eat into my day. Which is why I’m intrigued by High-Intensity Interval Training. In fact, this explanation of HIIT from Karen Reed of Positive Health Wellness was music to my ears, “Thanks to the non-stop, high-intensity pace of the workout, you can fit in both aerobic (cardio) and anaerobic (resistance training) exercise in just 15 to 25 minutes.” For more details, read her article, “All The Benefits of High Intensity Interval Training Workouts.”

I’d rather ramp up my exercise plan than go on blood pressure or cholesterol meds, so I’m looking at trying out High-Intensity Interval Training and/or scheduling more – or longer – aerobic exercise into my week. How about you?

 

Share

Study Proves Exercise Staves Off Bad Cholesterol

I’ve been in an exercise black hole since January 29th – the day I hurt my elbow shoveling. Since I had tennis elbow surgery 10 years ago, I knew this time to immediately stop playing tennis and quit spin to let my elbow heal. Suddenly it was 4 months later and I’ve gained weight and am out of the regular exercise habit.

YES, I could have done some other exercise. YES, I have both a treadmill and an elliptical in my home. NO, I didn’t use them and instead wallowed in my sadness that I’d reinjured my elbow.

And YES, I regret my sloth as I gained 5 pounds in four short months.

My elbow is still not 100% but now I’m on the slow path to regaining cardio fitness – and hopefully losing the weight that irks me daily as my jeans don’t fit.

And while exercise is harder than ever for me (getting old really bites: various body parts scream in protest when pushed), the good news is that a recent study of 11,000+ men proves that exercise may delay age-related high cholesterol levels.

An article entitled,The Effect of Cardiorespiratory Fitness on Age-Related Lipids and Lipoproteins was published online in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, on May 11, 2015. While I can’t read the actual article as it costs $35 to purchase (!) I’m writing based on several reputable sources who reported on this study.

Researchers used data from the Aerobics Center Longitudinal Study in Dallas, Texas, collected from more than 11,000 men between 1970 and 2006 to assess total cholesterol, LDL (bad) cholesterol, HDL (good) cholesterol and triglycerides.

As Lisa Rapaport of Reuters reported in her article, Men Who Exercise May Delay Age-Related High Cholesterol, in the study, “researchers followed thousands of men over several decades, periodically drawing blood to test their cholesterol and then making them run on treadmills to measure their cardiorespiratory fitness. Men who could run longer and faster – signs that their bodies more easily deliver oxygen to muscles – also had lower cholesterol.”

“The better men did on fitness tests, the more likely they were to have lower total cholesterol, as well as lower levels of what’s known as low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the bad kind of cholesterol that builds up in blood vessels and can lead to atherosclerosis, blood clots and heart attacks.

Fitter men also had higher levels of so-called high-density lipoprotein (HDL), the good cholesterol that helps purge the bloodstream of LDL.

Men with higher cardiorespiratory fitness levels had better cholesterol profiles than less fit men from their early 20s until at least their early 60s, though the difference diminished with older age.

At the same time, men with lower fitness levels reached abnormal cholesterol levels before age 40.”

Said differently, unfit men were at risk of developing high cholesterol in their early 30s, but those with better fitness levels did not see it rise until their mid-40s, around 15 years later.

Dr. Gregg Fonarow, professor of cardiology at the University of California, Los Angeles, was widely quoted about this article online: “Exercise is a vital component of achieving lifelong cardiovascular health. Regular physical activity and maintaining physical fitness has been shown to be associated with a lower risk of [heart attack], stroke, and premature cardiovascular death.”

How much exercise is needed? According to study co-author Dr. Xuemei Sui, an Assistant professor at the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina, to achieve the fitness levels necessary to ward off age-related high cholesterol, men should get 150 minutes a week of moderate activity (gardening, dancing, brisk walking) or 75 minutes of vigorous activity (jogging, running, swimming, cycling).

That’s 30 minutes of aerobic activity (a brisk walk!) five days a week, or 3-4 runs a week (or for me: tennis or spin 2-3 times a week).

Of course this study was done just with men. Actually, healthy white men. Of course that is incredibly frustrating. But I am going to go out on a limb and assume the same healthy benefits may confer on men and women in general.

And hope that getting back to the regular/daily exercise that will make my jeans fit again will also keep bad cholesterol at bay.

 

 

Share

New Year’s Exercise Resolutions and Heart Health

If you’re like most Americans, getting more exercise is on your list of New Year’s resolutions.

And for good reason: exercise is one of the key methods for lowering cholesterol – and blood pressure, my new concern — without medications.  Oh, and that dropping weight side-benefit (ha ha) is kind of fantastic, too.

So to reduce my blood pressure and to continue to keep my cholesterol in check without any meds, I’ve been wondering just how much, how hard, and how often I need to exercise.

In researching, I found this nifty chart from the American Heart Association.  It’s a little busy, but the key is the bottom-most graphic, which is for lowering cholesterol and blood pressure (how handy that they are together goal-wise!)

Apparently, to lower cholesterol and blood pressure, one needs to exercise for an average of 40 minutes at a ‘moderate-to-vigorous-intensity aerobic activity’ 3-4 days each week.

AHA Exercise Guidelines

Which sounds like kind of a lot, people.

I mean, I like exercise and exercise more frequently than most people I know, and that sounds like a lot to me.

So obviously, the next question is – what is ‘moderate-to-vigorous-intensity’ aerobic activity?

Luckily, the American Heart Association had a post that answered that exact question: Moderate to Vigorous – What is your level of intensity?  The AHA defines moderate and vigorous exercise as follows (link to the article for more detailed, pretty interesting info):

Examples of Moderate Intensity:

  • Walking briskly (3 miles per hour or faster, but not race-walking)
  • Water aerobics
  • Bicycling slower than 10 miles per hour
  • Tennis (doubles)
  • Ballroom dancing
  • General gardening

Examples of Vigorous Intensity:

  • Race walking, jogging, or running
  • Swimming laps
  • Tennis (singles)
  • Aerobic dancing
  • Bicycling 10 miles per hour or faster
  • Jumping rope
  • Heavy gardening (continuous digging or hoeing)
  • Hiking uphill or with a heavy backpack

I found this useful, but prefer a more specific goal: for me, moderate-vigorous means my heart rate hits at about 70-85% of my Max Heart Rate (for me, that’s 140-154 or so).  If you want to know more about setting a personal heart rate goal, read How To Set A Simple Heart Rate Goal.

Since the only thing I do for exercise that lasts more than 30 minutes is walking or spin class, all this means I need to be a bit more, um, diligent about working out. Sure, I play tennis 2-3 times per week, power walk on nice days (3 miles at about 4 mph) and take spin classes – but I’m pretty clear that I’m not hitting the 40 minutes part of the 3-4 days per week goal.

One option to boost exercise without it taking too much time is High-Intensity Interval Training. This explanation of HIIT from Karen Reed of Positive Health Wellness was music to my ears, “Thanks to the non-stop, high-intensity pace of the workout, you can fit in both aerobic (cardio) and anaerobic (resistance training) exercise in just 15 to 25 minutes.” For more details, read her article, “All The Benefits of High Intensity Interval Training Workouts.”

I’d rather ramp up my exercise plan than go on blood pressure or cholesterol meds, so I’m looking at trying out High-Intensity Interval Training and/or scheduling more – or longer – aerobic exercise into my week. How about you?

Share

The dog ate my exercise plan

Even blogging about exercising hasn’t inspired the near-daily exercise I need to lower my cholesterol.

And we already know the goody-two-shoes example set by my husband isn’t doing the trick either.  I suspect my ‘goody-two-shoes’ choice of adjective might be part of the problem.

Actually, though, the problem for me with exercise this week was tennis.   With all the snow and ice-storms, the roof at the indoor courts I play at twice a week caved in on Tuesday, taking the entire structure down with it.  Thank goodness the club had been closed early due to the weather so no one was there when it happened.

But it left me bereft.  Took me three days to realize why I was in a bad mood.

And I learned something about myself and my exercise psyche.  Of course, a saner, better person would have managed the stress of the sudden tennis vacuum and insane work-week by hopping on the elliptical so conveniently located in her home. But I was so upset and depressed about the fact that my tennis exercise option had been, well, flattened that instead I spent the week rebelling.  Not outwardly, of course,  Just forgetting to go on the elliptical. Years of practice and I’ve perfected the art of avoiding something by just forgetting about it.

So what I learned this week is that I just do not like to have NO CHOICE but to go on the elliptical.  Or I just was lazy. But I prefer to think it was a normal psychological reaction that I need to get over.

Perhaps it would help if I joined the cool new yoga studio my friends are really loving.  Though I know that yoga won’t ‘count’ for my kcal requirement (it’d be good for me, though) maybe it’ll work by making me feel like I’m CHOOSING the elliptical. So I’ll choose it more, like, um, daily.

Oh, who am I kidding?

I will sign off now, and sign up for a 9:45am spin class tomorrow.  Because my gym has a cancellation policy and my elliptical doesn’t.

Share

Why Exercise Daily?

The whole “It’s Important To Exercise Daily to Lower Cholesterol” thing is really bugging me.  (Possibly because I didn’t exercise yesterday or today.  No elliptical, no tennis, nada.)  But daily exercise as a goal feels unreasonable to me.  It seems like overkill — I mean why daily?  Why is daily so critically important?

And aren’t I exempt because I’m already in decent shape?

Searching for that exemption led me online, where I found the opposite.  Turns out, there is a concrete reason why exercising daily is important to lowering LDL, no matter what kind of shape you are in (there are probably many reasons, but I can only handle one at the moment.) Here’s an excerpt from WebMD’s “The Exercise-Cholesterol Link.”

“…But recent studies have more carefully examined the effect of exercise alone, making it easier to evaluate the relationship between exercise and cholesterol.Researchers now believe there are several mechanisms involved. First, exercise stimulates enzymes that help move LDL from the blood (and blood-vessel walls) to the liver. From there, the cholesterol is converted into bile (for digestion) or excreted. So the more you exercise, the more LDL your body expels.

Second, exercise increases the size of the protein particles that carry cholesterol through the blood. (The combination of protein particles and cholesterol are called “lipoproteins;” it’s the LDLs that have been linked to heart disease). Some of those particles are small and dense; some are big and fluffy. “The small, dense particles are more dangerous than the big, fluffy ones because the smaller ones can squeeze into the [linings of the heart and blood vessels] and set up shop there,” says Khera. “But now it appears that exercise increases the size of the protein particles that carry both good and bad lipoproteins.”

Which means that if — every day — I’m eating things that produce cholesterol (or my stupid body is over-producing it every single day), then getting daily exercise to remove that LDL cholesterol seems, um, pretty necessary. Because otherwise, that cholesterol has nothing to do but build, right?  Which is how I got here in the first place.

Well, that and Phish Food ice cream.

Is this new learning enough to get me committed to a daily workout as part of my Lo-Co lifestyle?  Not sure yet.  But it does have me thinking about it.

Share