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Couch Potatoes: Here’s How To Protect Your Heart

One of the keys to a healthy heart is keeping it active. You’re not doing that if you spend your days parked in front of a desk and your evenings plopped on the couch.

A sedentary lifestyle creates a laundry list of potential problems for you and your body. You burn fewer calories, leading to weight gain. Your bones may grow weaker. Your metabolism slows down, making it more difficult for your body to break down fats and sugars. You lose muscle strength. But perhaps worst of all, you decrease the efficiency of your circulatory system and allow your arteries to stiffen. Your lack of activity also contributes to several key cardiac risk factors, including:

  • Obesity
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes

To lower the risks linked to your couch-potato ways, you don’t have to run marathons. But you do need to find a way to get your heart active. The goal is at least 120 minutes (150 minutes would be better) of low-impact, moderate aerobic activity each week.

Get Off the Couch

It’s important to understand that you can make a difference. You can’t do anything about your age or genetics, but you can help your heart in other ways.

Find an activity that you enjoy doing so that it will be easier to make the commitment. You might like walking with a friend, riding a stationary bike, weightlifting, swimming, pickleball or jogging. Start slow in the beginning, almost to the point where it’s too easy. Initially, your goal is to develop a habit that’s going to stick. Once you get going, you can slowly build the intensity, aiming for a pace where you get short of breath without being uncomfortable.

In a perfect world, you would spread your weekly activity out over seven days, rather than trying to knock it out on the weekends alone. But an hour a day on Saturday and Sunday certainly has benefits. Make sure you focus on activities that increase your heart rate for the entire time period. Working in the garden for an hour may be better than sitting on the couch for an hour, but it’s not enough.

Low-impact activities where you start and stop are good for keeping you active, but they don’t provide the sort of boost you need for cardiovascular health. Instead, focus on things that keep your heart rate elevated for a specific period of time. Your doctor can help you design an exercise plan that’s right for you.

Commitment Is Key

To leave your sedentary ways behind, make your new exercise routine an integral part of your day. Find chunks of time that are easier to set aside for the cause. For example, you might decide that every night after dinner, you and your partner will take your dog for a walk.

Apply the same strategy to your workday. After you’ve been sitting at your desk for a couple of hours, get up and take a 15- to 20-minute walk. You may not be able to control every minute of your workday, but you are entitled to a certain amount of break time each day. Take advantage of that and get moving, instead of standing around the water cooler talking about the latest TV show.

It's also easier to stay committed if you have an exercise buddy – whether that’s a spouse, friend or coworker. It makes it harder to skip a session if you have someone else keeping tabs on you.

Stay Hydrated

As you get back into physical activities, don’t forget to drink water – particularly if you are out in the hot sun. It’s not uncommon to see patients heading to the hospital for dizziness, lightheadedness and passing out.

Aim for 64 ounces of water a day. And if you are taking part in outdoor activities, bump that up to 80 ounces.

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