If you use your gym membership, you’re probably among the 20 percent of Americans who already get enough physical activity. But now you want to take your workout to the next level. Is your heart ready?
Whether you exercise daily or follow the American Heart Association’s guidelines for physical activity, a checkup is a good first move to help determine your risk of heart disease and stroke, said Vincent Bufalino, M.D. a cardiologist at Advocate Medical Group in Naperville, Ill.
“It’s important to meet with your doctor because they can help decide your risk factors before you start exercising more,” Dr. Bufalino said. “First and foremost, we want to determine if it is safe for you to do it.”
Learn Your Risk
There are many risk factors to consider. Age, gender, race/ethnicity and family history of heart disease and stroke are risk factors that are beyond your control and may limit how far you can push yourself in the gym or on the court.
Dr. Bufalino said understanding your risk factors is particularly important as you get older, especially for men 45 and older and women 50 and older who have two or more other risk factors for cardiovascular diseases.
An easy way to learn your risk is with the help of our My Life Check® Assessment. Your assessment will help you understand what simple steps you may need to take to improve your heart health and quality of life. From there you will be directed to specific action plans that will help you get informed, change your behaviors and move you closer to your individual health goals. It only takes about seven minutes and your results are completely confidential.
“No matter what your fitness level, we want to help you avoid having a cardiac event,” Dr. Bufalino said. “We can evaluate your risk factors and know what’s out there in terms of risk factors like exposure and family history.”
Work Out a Workout Routine
Once you’ve received a clean bill of heart health, it’s time to get physical.
The benefits of exercise are numerous and well known, including lower blood pressure, better blood circulation, improved blood cholesterol levels, weight management, stronger muscles and more. But to really improve your length and quality of life, the American Heart Association suggests at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise (or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity). An easy goal to remember is 30 minutes a day, five times a week.
Using this baseline is a helpful way to gradually expand your workouts to the next level. Exactly what that next level looks like is up to you and your doctor.
“What works for most people is a common sense approach. If you’re already at a moderate exercise level, just gradually take yourself to that next place,” Dr. Bufalino said. “So for example, if you’re exercising vigorously for 30 minutes three times a week, try to expand that to 45 minutes four or five times a week. It’s a simple formula of time, frequency and intensity.”
Get Quality Exercise
Dr. Bufalino said intensity is where many people struggle. “There’s perceived exertion and there’s real exertion,” he said. “If you’re not tired at the end of your workout — not even breathless — then you’ve got to push more.”
The best way to know if you’re getting enough intensity? Use a heart rate monitor, Dr. Bufalino said. These small electronic devices can help you reach your target heart rate by providing information about your heart’s beats per minute to help you accurately evaluate your performance.
“There’s working out, and there’s working out,” said Dr. Bufalino. “I see many patients who are doing four workouts a week but are frustrated that they aren’t doing any better. I ask them, ‘So tell me, did you really push yourself? If not, you’re not pushing hard enough.’”