New Year’s Exercise Resolutions and Heart Health

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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?


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