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heart healthy choices - feb2013

altHeart disease, hypertension, stroke and high cholesterol rates affect aging adults at an alarming rate.

But a few small tweaks to exercise and diet can make a huge difference.

Find an exercise program that works for you, add some heart-healthy foods to your diet and watch your cholesterol drop while your energy level makes you feel as good as you did 20 years ago.

Why not start now?  Your heart will love you for it.

Get started

Be patient with your body, encourages Lisa Welko, president and founder of Ellipse Fitness.

Welko says, “If you’re not fit or you’re just beginning an exercise program, opt for light exercise intensity and gradually build up to a higher intensity. If you’re healthy and want a better result, you’re going to need to increase the intensity.”

Jan Heifner, Fitness Coordinator at the Appleton YMCA, advises older adults who want to make a change in their lifestyle to start slow.

Heifner adds, “Start by talking to your physician.”

“No one should push you beyond what you’re capable of doing,” explains Welko, “But realize that our bodies were designed to move and lift and bend and even jump. We have several members who never thought they’d be doing cardio kickboxing and strength training in their 50s and 60s, but they often tell me that this type of exercise keeps them young.”

Once you choose the type of exercise that works, the next step is setting a goal and starting the program. Heifner also advises people to evaluate their progress and revise their programs as needed.

Add strength training and variety to your routine

Even people with a solid fitness base benefit from assessing their health and goals.

Leah Rogers has been passionate about fitness since the 1970s, when she decided that running would help her break her addiction to smoking. “I started running in order to stop smoking,” explains Rogers, “I knew I couldn’t do both.”

But Rogers did not include strength training until she started attending classes at Ellipse.

As Welko notes, “Everyone, regardless of age, should have a weight-training component to their exercise routine.”

Heifner says, “The body is a unit rather than separate compartments that work in parallel. Individuals need to include strength, balance, flexibility, agility, power and rest in their program, and they need to work through a spectrum of intensities to maximize their cardiovascular health.”

Shannon Kennedy, owner and director at Anu Studio for Well Being in Neenah agrees. “Cardio/strength internal fitness is the best whole body workout,” she says. Kennedy suggests this combination should be done four to five times a week for 30-45 minutes and have dedicated time for recovery.

Adding variety changed Rogers’s fitness profile. Rogers says, “I’m more fit now that I am over 50 than in all those years. At my physical in March, I had the best cholesterol level I’ve had since I was running regularly.”

For those looking to make a change in their lifestyle, Kennedy recommends finding a buddy to exercise with and to mix it up. She says, “Having a buddy helps you keep on the healthy choice path, be accountable to each other and share emotional support while taking on the challenges of change.”

Meditation has also been found to be helpful for the heart. “People who meditate regularly have been found to have improved blood circulation as well as a lowered heart rate, which places less demands on the heart,” adds Kennedy. Alternative practices, such as gentle yoga, relaxation and breathing techniques have similar benefits.

Feed your heart

Eating right becomes easier when people start exercising and begin to view food as fuel for their muscles—including the heart.

In addition to fueling your body before and after exercise for improved energy, it’s also important to make healthy choices during the day.

Clinical nutritionist Kim Neher of Nutritional Healing in Appleton adds, “For heart health, think of plant foods full of bright colors such as raspberries, tomatoes, carrots, peppers, spinach, broccoli and blueberries. Also try to include whole food sources of omega-3 fatty acids such as wild salmon, walnuts, almonds and flaxseeds.”

Interventional cardiologist with Aurora BayCare Medical Center Dr. Sarah Fenton also encourages people to eat more produce.

Fenton says, “People can make huge improvements in heart health by eating more fresh produce. If we did that, we’d be too full to eat the stuff that’s not good for us.”

The body is able to provide signals when something is wrong, suggests Kennedy. “Taking time to be aware of your habits, your defaults, is the beginning step to changing your lifestyle with the goal of moving into well being.”

If you’re low on energy at 10 a.m. and realized you missed breakfast, this not only explains your body’s reaction but it signals the need to initiate change in your daily habits.

The energy healthy foods provide can help anyone feel ready to tackle new exercise challenges. So enjoy a bowl of oatmeal, lace up your sneakers and make 2013 the year you focus on giving your heart the love it deserves.

Five Superfoods for heart health

Does the word “diet” bring to mind deprivation? Take heart. Dr. Sarah Fenton, an interventional cardiologist with Aurora BayCare Medical Center in Green Bay, explains that heart-healthy eating is not about dieting. Instead, think of it as a lifestyle modification.

These five delicious, filling nutritional powerhouses keep your heart healthy and your waistline happy.

Oatmeal: Oatmeal lowers the risk of heart disease, stroke and hypertension. Try sprinkling flaxseed meal, a few walnuts and some blueberries on your oatmeal.

Nuts and nut butters, especially almonds and walnuts: Nuts reduce people’s risk of developing coronary heart disease. Fenton suggests using salads as a vehicle for healthy foods. She says, “You can add things to salads like walnuts or almonds to sneak in those healthy omega-3 fatty acids.”

Spinach: The carotenoids in spinach protect artery walls from damage. Replace some of the lettuce in salads with this superfood, or steam it and serve it with salmon—another food that supports heart health.

Oranges: Drinking a glass of orange juice every day can reduce the risk of stroke by 25 percent.

Dark chocolate: Studies have shown that consuming four grams of cocoa a day lowers people’s risk for dying of heart disease. Keep calories in check by selecting two Hershey’s kisses or a small square of dark chocolate.

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