A lot of my older patients just simply hate the idea of having to go to the gym to get on a treadmill or stair stepper or elliptical several times a week. My younger patients aren’t too thrilled about it either, but they’re more apt to make the effort. Older patients also know that they have to “move it or lose it”, as I often tell them. The “losing it” would be their heart and brain health which regular exercise promotes.
If this sounds like you, let me share the same good news with you, that I tell my patients. You don’t have to spend hours a week at the gym to save your heart and brain health. Here are some simple ways you can do that and enjoy yourself.
Save Your Heart, Brain with Fun Activities
Always on the lookout for news about how my patients can improve their heart health, some research that I came across is going to have them jumping for joy. In a study out of the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress, it was shown that older people (the study focused on those 65 to 83) could really improve their heart and brain health by doing a little more of the activities they likely are already doing and enjoying.
Activities that involved milder-to-moderate, yet continuous and regular, physical movement, for 30 minutes, a few times a week, for 3 months helped loosen arteries significantly. Having more elastic veins and arteries had been shown to help keep blood flowing more freely and abundantly to the heart and brain – greatly reducing the risk of heart attack and/or stroke. In fact, activities like these improved vascular elasticity about 15% to 20%.
The researchers concluded that older adults could greatly improve their heart and brain health by doing 30-60 minutes of moderately vigorous, regular, activity – several times a week. The best part is, this activity didn’t have to be typical “gym workouts” but could be any of the following (or other), more enjoyable, activities:
1. Mall walking
3. Golfing (walking the course, not using a cart)
4. Tai Chi
6. Gardening, lawn work (raking leaves, cutting grass, pruning shrubs, etc)
7. Walking your neighborhood
8. Moderate speed bicycling
10. Climbing stairs in your work building
It was found that these activities – like all aerobic exercise – reduce narrowing of arteries and decrease the development of blood clots and stroke, heart attack. Of course, traditional workouts on treadmills, elliptical, stair steppers help too – but most people don’t find the time on them as enjoyable.
To get started moving more, if you’ve been a little sedentary for a while, or only exercising here and there, start with 10-15 minutes a day a few times a week. Then, gradually add another day, to your routine, and another 5 minutes. Aim for at least 30 minutes moderate aerobic exercise. How does golfing 4-5 times a week sound? Try changing it up, maybe golfing one day, swimming the next, taking a brisk walk around your neighborhood with your spouse or friend another day, or biking around the lake the next day?
The truth is there are a lot of enjoyable activities you could do that can count for artery-health promoting exercise. What about you and your significant other taking a paddle boat for a spin around a lake? Paddling a kayak or canoe down a river? Hiking up some beautiful hills? Get creative – you can come up with even more fun ways to save your heart and your brain by improving your vascular health through exercise.
Ron Blankstein, M.D.