|James Beckerman, MD
Chances are you or someone you know is affected by heart disease, the top cause of death worldwide. Fortunately, we can control about 80 percent of the risk factors, such as high blood pressure and obesity, largely through exercise, the “least prescribed and most effective heart treatment,” according to Providence cardiologist James Beckerman, M.D. In his book, “Heart to Start”, Dr. Beckerman outlines an 8-week exercise plan to help anyone, regardless of fitness level, beat heart disease and live a longer, healthier life.
His book will help transform a couch potato into a runner in 20 weeks. Following the initial 8-week get-in-shape plan is a 12-week 5K training program, but the ultimate goal is leading a heart-healthy life through exercise. Here are some of the book’s tips that you can apply to your life, wherever you are in your fitness journey.
Strive for sustainability
The most important factor in any healthy lifestyle change is sustainability, says Beckerman. Adopt healthy habits you can stick with for the long haul. You can’t commit to exercising two hours a day, every day for the rest of your life, but you can join a gym or buy a set of dumbbells. As you get comfortable with an exercise routine, it’s natural to lose interest over time. “With this exercise prescription, you learn something about yourself that helps you write the next one,” says Dr. Beckerman.
Dr. Beckerman refers to heart disease as a sitting disease. Many of us spend much of the day sitting, thanks in part to office jobs and streaming television. People who sit all day except for when hitting the gym are at similar risk of heart disease as those who spend half their time sitting and don’t exercise regularly. “Being sedentary reduces the beneficial effects of exercise,” says Dr. Beckerman. The best time to be active? He recommends moving around during the 20 minutes after each meal to lower blood sugar and triglycerides, ultimately reducing inflammation that leads to heart disease. If you can’t walk for 20 minutes after you eat, it’s still helpful to interrupt prolonged periods of sitting with just 10 minutes of low- to moderate-intensity walking.
Tap into social media
Tell the world — or at least your friends — about your healthy goals. Research shows that including others will help you pursue a challenge with more confidence and perseverance. “If only one person in the universe is aware of what you’re doing, that might be enough to create momentum in your own life to follow through,” says Dr. Beckerman. Aside from accountability, social media is an effective tool for cultivating community. Log onto Facebook and Twitter to find encouragement from others who share similar goals and struggles. (Use the hashtag #HeartToStart and Dr. Beckerman will cheer you on!)
It’s never too late. If you think quitting is pointless because the damage is already done, you’re wrong. Your blood pressure will come down after giving up cigarettes for just a few days. Quit smoking for good, and your risk for heart disease will rival that of someone who has never smoked in one to two years. What does smoking have to do with exercise? Studies have found that exercise can decrease the desire to smoke, reduce withdrawal symptoms and increase the amount of time between cigarettes.
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