Heart Health

Updated 22 December 2008

Keep your heart pumping!

The heart is one of the most important muscles in the body and one of the best ways to keep it healthy is by exercising regularly.

Physical inactivity is one of the major risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD) together with tobacco use and an unhealthy diet, according to the World Health Organisation.

With 1 in 3 men and 1 in 4 women in South Africa developing a heart condition before the age of 60, taking charge of your physical fitness can play an important role in maintaining an overall sense of wellbeing and reducing the risk of developing CVD.

"The heart is one of the most important muscles in the body and one of the best ways to keep it healthy is by exercising regularly. Being inactive can contribute to weight problems and other CVD risk factors, including hypertension and raised cholesterol and glucose levels," says Shân Biesman-Simons, Director of Nutrition and Education at the Heart and Stroke Foundation SA.

While most people have heard this advice many times and the mere mention of exercise brings about visions of sweaty, panting people slaving away on machines, exercise is nonetheless vital in maintaining health.

Recent research has shown that a regular training programme will improve general cardiovascular fitness, especially for those individuals who have a history of heart disease. Although getting arms of steel and a glowing physique may be the ultimate aim, believe it or not, physical exercise has more than the obvious aesthetic benefits.

Regular exercise may:

  • Reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Improve your blood cholesterol levels
  • Help control blood pressure
  • Play a role in glucose control
  • Help maintain or reach ideal weight
  • Strengthen your bone ligaments and tendons
  • Reduce the risk of developing osteoporosis
  • Improve your ability to fall asleep quickly and sleep well
  • Help reduce the symptoms of PMS

Different forms of physical activities, including those that are less demanding, can be highly beneficial. Fun dance classes, using the stairs instead of the lift and daily household chores like sweeping, gardening or cleaning the house all contribute to your well being and fitness level.

South Africans are sports fanatics; therefore use the opportunity to join a cricket, rugby, soccer or hockey club. Swimming, dancing and brisk walking are but some of the other physical activities that can also benefit your heart. To help improve your cardiovascular fitness, one should choose an activity that is both repetitive and rhythmic because it strengthens your heart.

However if you struggle to start, here are a few tips that can help:

  • Choose activities that are fun and add variety
  • Find a convenient time and place to do activities. If you miss an exercise opportunity, work activity into your day in another way
  • Use music to keep you entertained
  • Surround yourself with positive people
  • Don’t overdo it!

Remember: If you have been inactive for a long time or are at high risk for coronary heart disease, see your medical doctor for a proper medical evaluation before beginning a physical exercise programme.

For more information on how to follow a healthy lifestyle contact the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s Heart Mark Diet Line on 0860 223 222 for advice from a registered dietician.

(Heart and Stroke Foundation, updated December 2012)

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