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Getting to the Heart of Getting in Shape

Two LVHN doctors share advice to help you be cardiac careful as you start or resume an exercise routine

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Is your heart ready for exercise.

The weather has warmed, and you might be thinking of getting into an exercise routine, perhaps trying your hand at running or some other activity that’ll get your heart pumping.

For experienced athletes, there may not be much of a training curve to get into top shape. But if you’re inactive, our experts say take it slowly and resist the temptation to go from 0 to 60 the first day.

We asked cardiologists Dan Makowski, DO, LVH Cardiology–1250 Cedar Crest, and Ronak Patel, MD, LVPG Cardiology–Muhlenberg, to weigh in on how to train, how to monitor your heart rate, and more. Both doctors are part of Lehigh Valley Heart and Vascular Institute’s sports cardiology program, which provides cardiac health guidance for all, from novice to experienced athletes.

“I think the biggest thing is not trying to do too much too soon and realizing that like with anything else, it’s a process. Results are not instantaneous.” Dan Makowski, DO, LVH Cardiology–1250 Cedar Crest

How to figure your maximum predicted heart rate

The sweet spot for cardiac benefit varies by person, but any amount of regular physical activity and exercise can be beneficial, say Makowski and Patel.

“One study showed people who are active and engage in regular exercise can increase their life span an average of seven years,” Patel says. “Another study showed running as little as 10 minutes a day provides a cardiovascular benefit.”

But just like you wouldn’t want to run your car at maximum speed for a long time, you don’t want to push your body’s engine – your heart – at maximum levels either.

The advice is to first determine your maximum predicted heart rate, and that’s calculated by subtracting your age from 220. So, a 40-year-old would have a maximum heart rate of 180 beats per minute (bpm).

For moderate exercise, you should look to achieve 60-70% of that rate. For more strenuous exercise, the top rate would be 85% of that rate. For the 40-year-old, the maximum heart rate for strenuous exercise would by 153 bpm. Moderate exercise would fall between 108 and 126 bpm.

If you don’t wear a high-tech device on your wrist that can tell you your heart rate, don’t worry. Checking your pulse for 15 seconds, then multiplying the number of beats by four, will give you your bpm.

Did you know?

Getting enough physical activity could prevent 1 in 10 premature deaths (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

How to amp up from inactive to active

If you’re inactive, it’s best to consult with your primary care provider before embarking on an exercise plan to make sure there are no red flags with your heart or lungs.

Both Makowski and Patel recommend starting out slowly. Warm-ups, cooldowns and stretching should always be part of your exercise regimen. “If you are really conditioning your body the right way, there should be nothing beyond the normal soreness,” Makowski says.

Most exercise, Makowski says, should be of moderate intensity, so that when you need to get into a higher gear, your body will be able to do that.

“I think the biggest thing is not trying to do too much too soon and realizing that as with anything else, it’s a process. Results are not instantaneous,” Makowski says. “The older we get, the longer we go without activity, it’s going to take longer.”

Patel says it’s normal to experience some shortness of breath and feel tired when you’re inactive and start running. “As you do more and more, that should get better,” he says. He recommends starting out with 15-30 minutes of walking or slow jogging.

Other activities that require moderate intensity include:

  • Walk briskly (4 mph)
  • Heavy cleaning (washing windows, vacuuming, mopping)
  • Mowing lawn (power mower)
  • Bicycling, light effort (10-12 mph)
  • Recreational badminton
  • Tennis doubles

See your doctor if you aren’t progressing.

How your body benefits from exercise

Exercise benefits overall health, increasing good cholesterol and reducing bad cholesterol. It helps reduce obesity and blood pressure and improves insulin in blood sugar. It even helps you reduce stress.

“Do what you can and don’t overdo,” Makowski says. “Listen to what your body is telling you. If your body is telling you something’s wrong, don’t push through the symptoms.”

“Push yourself a little bit, but not to the point where you’re exhausted,” Patel says.

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