How To Exercise For Heart Health

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It’s mid-January: cue the exercise blues.

First of all, it gets dark WAY too early.  Plus, at least here in the northeast, it’s cold outside baby (not even mentioning the torrential rain and snow plaguing many states).

Which means the exercise ‘goals’ (OK, they were more like exercise ‘good intentions’) that I ‘set’ (OK, flirted with) for the New Year have fallen by the wayside.

Not good. But it’s not too late.

In fact, it’s not even that difficult to get back on the exercise-for-better-heart-health bandwagon! Because the amount of exercise you need to boost heart health is not that, well, strenuous (sorry for bad pun). I mean, WALKING counts. WALKING. Truly.

That said, it can be hard to get in a daily 30-minute brisk walk when it gets dark at 4:30.

And that set me thinking about what I could do—that I don’t hate—if I can’t get outside for my daily brisk walk and/or I’m not playing tennis that day.

It turns out that my PT exercise plan (for my knee arthritis) is a solid start…and there are some recent articles about exercising for cardiovascular health that had additional ideas.

AHA How Much Physical Activity Do You Need?First: a quick heart-health goal summary. The AHA recommends “At least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity, or a combination of both, preferably spread throughout the week.”

That long sentence basically translates to: 30 minutes of walking at least 5 days/week. The AHA also suggests everyone, “Add moderate- to high-intensity muscle-strengthening activity (such as resistance or weights) on at least 2 days per week.”

But if it’s too dark & cold to walk and treadmill is just too boring, then what?

Well, here are a few ideas:

PT for my Arthritic Knee (and shoulders). I’m doing a 20 minute “PT for my Knee (and shoulders)” routine daily, then adding 5 minutes of yoga/stretching at the end. I do this first thing every morning (or it won’t happen) and if I aim for EVERY morning I’ll hit at least 3 mornings a week. It’s surprising how much better I feel overall when do this. (And yet, it still doesn’t happen every am… Cue 2023 therapist search.) Here’s my routine in not-exercise-professional language, FWIW:

  • SHOULDERS:  First I center my spine on a 36″ foam roller. Then loosen shoulders by holding arms outstretched for 3 minutes. Then I use a green band to do 3 sets of 10 ‘Pull-Aparts’ — which I do while still balanced on the foam roller to get some core work in.
  • LEGS: Sets of “Clamshells” with the green band around my knees. Then sets of “Bridges,” also with green band around knees. Then wearing 10 lb ankle weights (5 lb each ankle), small “Leg Raises with knees on the foam roller, followed by “Straight Leg Raises.”  OR Bridges using a Medicine Ball but I really dislike those, so I put up with the takes-forever leg raises.
  • YOGA / STRETCHES: I decided to add a ‘sun salutation’ followed by runners stretches and ‘Spiderman’ stretches and a modified ‘child’s pose’ and ‘extended child’s pose’ (modified b/c my no-cartilage knees don’t bend that way anymore) for flexibility.

A routine from a Physical Therapist is one great way to start but if the above is too boring or you don’t have a PT you can consult, then here are some other ideas. I found these articles interesting:

From the NYT “Well” Section:

From Other Reputable Sources:

Of course, you should always discuss with your doctor before starting a new exercise plan. And as you progress, you may want to check your exercise progress using a target heart rate: the AHA’s Target Heart Rates Chart is a good resource.

Here’s to exercising for better heart health in 2023!




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