February is Heart Month!

How to love your heart

It’s February which makes us think of Valentine’s Day and many of us turn to the thoughts of hearts, chocolate, red wine and love. Did you also know that February is Heart Month? As a result, this is a good time to make a commitment to getting heart healthy. According to WebMD, new research shows that chocolate and red wine, in moderation, can help keep the blood flowing throughout the body.1 Although, these findings are still somewhat controversial, one thing that is not controversial and can decrease our risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD), is EXERCISE.

Exercise has been shown to significantly decrease our risk for CVD. CVD is the leading cause for mortality and morbidity worldwide, and is the leading cause of death in both men and women in the United States.2 Among the multiple risk factors that predispose one to the development of CVD, there is one in particular that has been proven to be a major risk factor that leads to poor cardiovascular health and that is a sedentary lifestyle. A sedentary lifestyle has been defined as consistently low levels of physical activity. In contrast, regular exercise and physical activity are associated with considerable widespread health benefits and notably decrease the risk for CVD.

So what if you already have heart disease? Is it still safe to exercise? It is never too late to get started and YES regular exercise is very important when you have heart disease. Getting regular exercise when have heart disease can strengthen your heart muscle and can help you manage your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. The muscles we use become stronger and the muscles we don’t become weaker and atrophy. The heart is just like any other muscle in the body and needs to be exercised. When you exercise your heart, it can pump more blood throughout the body and with less strain. Regular exercise also can improve blood flow through the other blood vessels of the body helping normalize your blood pressure. Heart disease can also be associated with other co-morbidities that can also benefit from physical activity, such as Diabetes Mellitus (DM). If you have DM, exercise can help lower your blood sugar along with the benefits of improving the efficiency of your heart.

The American Heart Association (AHA) and the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommend that all Americans should try to participate in at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity at least 5 days a week or vigorous-intensity activity for 20 minutes on 3 days a week. Multiple sessions of exercise lasting 10 minutes can be performed throughout the day to satisfy the 30-minute recommendation. For those with cardiac disease, the ACSM recommends you perform physical activity 5-7 days a week at an intensity of 40%-80% of your heart rate reserve for 20-60 minutes depending on your previous activity levels or per your MD recommendations. ACSM also recommend resistance training involving the major muscle groups.  You should perform 8-10 different exercises, for 8-12 repetitions of each exercise, 2-3 times a week on non-consecutive days.2 This will improve muscular strength and endurance. As always, you should talk to your doctor before beginning any exercise program! In addition, you can consult with a physical therapist or personal trainer to assist you to begin and develop a safe exercise program.

So please join in this month to take the steps to protect your heart and start exercising. Evidence shows that the benefits of exercise in primary and secondary prevention of CVD needs the promotion of physical activity in our population. It is well known that a sedentary lifestyle is one of the major risk factors for CVD so take the steps literally to reduce your risk of heart disease.




1 WebMD; Food and recipes/featured stories. Valentine’s Day: Good for the heart.

2 Agarwal, S. (2012). Cardiovascular Benefits of Exercise. International Journal of General Medicine, 5: 541-545.

Bernadette Schwai is an ACSM certified personal trainer with Agewell Senior Fitness and a holds a Doctorate in Physical Therapy

Contact  Bernadette to see how she can help you!



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