Here’s to a healthier heart!

Walk, ski, jog, climb stairs – and you’ll be healthier, brighter and more independent and enjoy a better quality of life.    

Every February during Heart Month, we are reminded of the importance of taking care of our hearts. Yet for far too many of us this fleeting thought is forgotten and we return to less-than-healthy habits like not getting enough physical activity. The good news is, regardless of age it’s never too late to change your habits for the better.

“As an older adult, one of the most important things you can do for your health is to be physically active,” says Amber Mamchuk, physical activity/heart health manager for the Heart and Stroke Foundation in Manitoba. “Not only can physical activity help you live longer, but it may also prolong your health, mental sharpness and independence to help you enjoy a better quality of life. Inactivity, on the other hand, is linked to a higher risk of heart disease and stroke.”

The foundation recommends a minimum of 150 minutes a week of moderate to vigorous physical activity. Moderate activities include brisk walking, dancing and indoor cycling. Vigorous activities include cross-country skiing, jogging and aerobics. In addition, older adults should add muscle and bone-strengthening activities using major muscle groups at least two days per week.

“Sore joints and body aches are common as we get older and they can feel like a barrier to being active,” says Mamchuk. “However, if you have arthritis or osteoporosis, physical activity is extremely important for keeping you mobile.

“Try activities in the form of flexibility, endurance and strength training. Just be sure to warm up with five to 10 minutes of light activity before heading into any vigorous activity, to prevent injuries.”

When it’s cold outside and you are looking for ways to continue activity throughout the winter months, Mamchuk advises mall walking, indoor swimming or home exercise videos.

For people who are just starting out, she recommends beginning with five to 10 minutes of moderate activity per day, and building up from there. “The key is to just start – starting can be the hardest part when integrating any new habit into your life. It doesn’t matter how long, just start with something you enjoy and go as long as you comfortably can, and keep going. You’ll be glad you did.”

For more information and e-tools on being active, visit heartandstroke.mb.ca. Always check with your healthcare provider before starting any new physical activity program.

Activities that offer a variety of fitness benefits

Endurance activities include walking, hiking, swimming, dancing, cycling and skating. These are especially good for your heart, lungs and circulatory system.

Flexibility activities include stretching, yoga, tai chi, yard work and vacuuming. These keep joints limber. Increased flexibility will allow you to continue to tie your shoes, reach the top shelf in your kitchen and clip your toenails.

Strength activities include lifting weights or soup cans, climbing stairs, doing pushups against a wall in a standing position, or sitting down and standing up in rapid succession repeatedly.

These will strengthen your muscles and improve balance, which will help to prevent falls, the leading cause of death from injury in people over 65. Never think you’re too old to strengthen your body: studies have found that weight training can reverse muscle weakness even among people in their 90s.

—The Heart and Stroke Foundation, Manitoba

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