It was a sunny morning in July. Breakfast time. We had company and I knew she liked Cheerios. Topped with sliced, ripe strawberries and plump, sweet blueberries from the Lake Oswego Farmers’ Market, our bowls were works of art. I hadn’t read a cereal box for awhile but this one caught my eye—a heart-shaped bowl of Cheerios, also topped with strawberries, surrounded by the words “Love your heart so you can . . . do what you love.” Words after my own heart!
I was reminded of the first article I wrote for Women’s Report on September 8, 2008. As an anniversary of sorts, I’d like to reprise that story . . .
As a cardiac rehabilitation nurse for over thirty years, lifestyle change is at the heart of what I do. I consider the heart to be the most important muscle of the body. It is a muscle that has its own intrinsic pacemaker and rhythm. Its function is to beat, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week delivering oxygen to every cell of your body for as long as you live.
How well it does that has a lot to do with how you choose to live. Your heart is one muscle with a big job to do. It is supported by the rest of you, all the other muscles of your body that get you around from day to day . . . the support cast to the star. If you keep your muscles in good shape, it makes the job your heart has to do a lot easier. That is one of the benefits of exercise and it is one of the ways to start to love your heart.
This is a good time of year to re-introduce the three components of a balanced exercise program . . . kind of a “Back to School” review.
• Aerobic exercise for cardiovascular endurance. The basis of getting fit begins with building up your aerobic base of activity. The more you work your heart and lungs, the more efficient they become at delivering oxygen to your body and your brain. Aerobic activities include walking, swimming, biking and jogging. The frequency, duration and intensity at which you perform these activities will depend on your goals. As you become more aerobically fit you will have the added benefit of improving your ability to carry out your daily activities and, as the Cheerios box so wisely advises, you’ll be able to do more of the things you love to do!
• Resistance or strength training to increase the strength, size and tone of muscles. This includes hand weights, resistance bands, weight machines, Kettlebells and using the weight of your own body as in lunges, push-ups and sit-ups. The importance of resistance training at all stages of life helps determine later bone health, especially in women, in the prevention of osteoporosis.
• Flexibility, which includes stretching and range of motion exercises to improve performance in sports, daily activities, and to reduce the risk of injury.
Each of these should be included in a balanced exercise program. If you are not yet involved in an exercise program of any kind, the best thing you can do for yourself—and your heart—is to begin moving.
How much? More than you are now. What kind of moving? Begin by walking. Walk slowly for ten, fifteen then twenty minutes with the goal of gradually increasing your time to thirty minutes, 3-5 days a week.
It starts with that first step. The main benefit of aerobic exercise is that over time your heart becomes stronger, beats fewer times per minute but beats more blood per beat and delivers oxygen more efficiently. That’s why your resting heart rate decreases as you become more aerobically fit, and it also demonstrates how using the support muscles of your body benefits the main muscle, your heart.
All that from a message on a cereal box!
Well, it’s true. I hope you have all had some adventures over the summer that you were better able to do because you are keeping yourselves fit. Fall hiking is ahead, winter skiing, rock climbing, bike rides across bridges, Mt. Hood, Timberline Lodge, trekking the Pacific Crest Trail, cross-country skiing, snow-shoeing, swimming, the Portland Marathon for walkers, race walkers and runners . . .
Isn’t Oregon the best place to live! Make your own list of what you love and then go out and “Love your heart so you can . . . do what you love!” Wisdom on a cereal box.
Yours in fitness,
Olivia C. Rossi, RN, MSN
Certified Clinical Exercise Specialist, ACSM
Certified Personal Trainer, ACSM