3 min read
By Kate Silver | February 13, 2020
February is a time to think about hearts—and we’re not talking chocolate. This month is American Heart Month, and the statistics speak volumes: heart disease is the leading cause of death among women in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC states that in 2017, heart disease was associated with one in five female deaths.
Anne Albers, MD, who is a heart and vascular physician at OhioHealth in Columbus, Ohio, says one way to celebrate American Heart Month is to adopt a new activity or exercise goal. "It doesn’t have to be perfect!” she adds. She’s learned over the years that women tend to be their own worst critics in this area. “I stopped asking people, ‘How much do you exercise? Because the answer I always get is, ‘Not as much as I should,’” says Albers. Alarmed by those kinds of feelings of inadequacy, she now encourages women to give themselves credit for what they are doing rather than beating themselves up for what they’re not doing, and she suggests that they try out small, heart-healthy changes that could become habits.
Here are some ideas on how to gradually add more exercise into your routine, during Heart Month and beyond.
The federal government recommends at least 150 minutes a week of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity. That can be accomplished just by walking a little more than 10 minutes, twice a day, says Albers. “You might be able to park farther from work [or add] in more walking, or take the stairs,” she says. “Those are ways to be more active.”
Exercise doesn’t have to feel like drudgery. Make it fun by enlisting friends to join in. “Instead of meeting people to eat, meet people to walk,” says Albers. Or, try a new group activity or sport, such as pickleball, spinning, golf, squash, tai chi, water aerobics or whatever sounds fun to you. Manhattan-based physical therapist Dr. Jes Hill suggests engaging in a sport in which your eyes and ears are moving together — anything that gets you moving with rhythm and speed can be important for functional fitness over time.
If you’re running errands or meeting friends close to the home, consider alternatives to driving. Walk, hop on a bike or hoof it to the nearest train or bus station. By leaving the gas guzzler behind, you’ll be doing a favor for yourself, and the earth.
With Valentine’s Day coming—not to mention 364 other potential date nights this year—find an active way to enjoy time with your partner. Sign up for a dance class, go ice skating or roller skating, take a hike or find another exciting endeavor that elevates your heart rate.
Show yourself some love this month, and make your health a priority. “The more physically active you can be, the stronger your heart is,” says Albers. That’s a gift that only you can give yourself.
Kate Silver is a Gen X writer living in Chicago. Her work regularly appears in Washington Post, Chicago Tribune and on her own website, www.thekatesilver.com.
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