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Exercise Your Way to Heart Health

You know it's important to keep your heart healthy through a regular exercise routine. However, the holidays can be busy and stressful, and typically don't leave much time for taking care of yourself. The new year is the perfect time to resolve to increase your activity and heart health.

How does exercise contribute to heart health? 
Exercise has many benefits to your overall health, explains UAB Exercise Physiologist and manager of the UAB Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation Program Chris Schumann. "Exercise can help control blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar and can decrease body weight. Most importantly, it helps strengthen the heart, resulting in a more efficient pump, contributing to better circulation throughout the body. A healthier heart doesn't have to work as hard at rest or during submaximal exercise." When you exercise, you are strengthening the heart muscle and prolonging its life.

What exercises are best at working your heart? 
Cardiovascular exercise is the best at strengthening the heart. "Walking may be the most favorable exercise, because most people can easily do it - you just lace up your shoes and go," Schumann says. "But any type of exercise that gets you moving is the key. Begin with cardio, or aerobic, exercise, and then you can try resistance training. This will complement the cardio by building stronger muscles and allowing you to do your exercises with more vigor."

Many people with heart problems also have orthopedic problems because of excess weight, so for those individuals, non-weight bearing exercises may be best. Schumann recommends the stationary bike or elliptical machine.

What special considerations should people with heart disease take when exercising? 
While it's definitely important to consult your physician when you begin exercising, most people can begin light to moderate exercise fairly easily. "Just let your physician know what you're planning to do," Schumann says. "Start by doing something every day. Set a time each day to designate for activity, whether it's yard work, taking a walk or playing with your kids."

It's important to begin gradually and then increase the length and intensity over time. "Remember - Rome wasn't built in a day," Schumann says. "If you start too vigorously, you risk an overuse injury. Start with 20 minutes of exercise and increase gradually until you are exercising 60 minutes each day, especially if you need to shed excess pounds." Also, don't be intimidated by gyms - they have great equipment, and trainers who can show you how to properly use them.

What is the UAB Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation Program? 
"At the UAB Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation Program, we monitor cardiac and pulmonary patients and educate them on how to manage their disease," Schumann says. "The basis of the program is education and exercise under medical supervision. Our goal is to help patients identify and set short- and long-term goals, which include managing risk factors such as diabetes, high blood pressure and excess body weight." The program also educates patients on proper nutrition and the medications they've been prescribed, and provides support every step of the way.

Patients may be referred to the UAB Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation Program through their physician. The cardiopulmonary rehabilitation program is available for patients who meet the following criteria:

The program is open to those who, within the past 12 months, have had a documented diagnosis of acute myocardial infarction or angina pectoris or have had coronary artery bypass surgery, heart valve repair/replacement, percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty (PTCA) or a coronary stent or heart-lung transplant. Those interested in learning more may call the program at (205) 975-5400.