I was delighted to be asked to write a series of articles for West Essex Life focusing on women's health and fitness. This month, I focus on the heart...
Hearts are a symbol of love, the centre of our emotions and passions. They are, most importantly, central to our survival, pumping blood and oxygen around our bodies.
Your heart is a muscle and, like all muscles, gets stronger with exercise.
So what type of exercises do we need for our heart?
Aerobic exercise strengthens the heart and lungs and enhances the body’s ability to use oxygen. It improves circulation and in turn lowers blood pressure and heart rate.
Aerobic exercise includes activities such as running, jogging and cycling. If you have joint or back problems you may prefer low impact aerobic activities such as swimming or brisk walking.
Strength and resistance training can help to reduce body fat, a risk factor for heart disease, and create leaner muscle mass. A combination of aerobic and strength training can help reduce your bad cholesterol (LDL) and raise your good cholesterol (HDL).
Strength training exercises includes exercises with weights, resistance bands and body-weight exercises.
Stretching exercises enhance our mobility and reduce our risk of injury, enabling us to keep exercising. Recent research has also proven that static stretching (holding a stretch, rather than moving stretches) increase blood flow and reduce arterial stiffness, helping to prevent heart disease and diabetes.
How much and how often?
You don’t have to work out for hours on end. You can improve your health and wellbeing by building up to 150 minutes of activity a week, at an intensity that makes you feel warmer, breathe harder and makes your heart beat faster than usual. You should still be able to talk while exercising.
Here is a short exercise programme to get you started. Please consult your doctor before starting any new exercises.
Stand with feet parallel, hip distance apart. Alternate raising your knees to waist height, engaging your stomach muscles to protect your back and help you balance. Increase the speed and / or add jumps as you change legs to increase the heart rate and / or impact.
Stand with the feet hip-width apart. Extend the right leg back to a lunge position. Push off with the right foot to return to the starting position and repeat on the other side. To increase the challenge, increase the speed and / or add a little jump to change legs (if your joints can tolerate high impact).
Stand with feet parallel, hip distance apart. Bend knees, hinge at hips, reach arms forwards keeping back straight. Unhinge, returning upright, straightening knees. You can increase the resistance by adding hand weights.
Start on all fours, then push off the floor, raising up off your knees onto your toes, straightening your legs behind you. Draw your shoulders away from your ears, engage your abdominals and create a straight line with your body.
Maintain the position without arching the lower back.
Standing, place one foot on a chair while holding onto a wall. Slowly lean forward, keeping your back straight until you feel a stretch in the back of your thigh. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
Behind back arm stretch
Put your hands behind your back, locking your fingers together (if this isn’t comfortable hold onto a towel or resistance band so your hands are shoulder-width apart). Lengthen your arms down and back, slightly lifting your chest upwards, until you feel a gentle stretch across your chest and the fronts of your shoulders. Hold for 30 seconds.
Loving your heart will help you to stay healthy and strong. Whatever exercise you enjoy doing, walking, swimming, golf, Pilates, the important thing is to get moving.