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Show Your Heart a Little Love This February

That is right, not only is February a month for valentines, it is Heart Health Month! Love is in the air and hearts are everywhere, so it makes sense that attention be given to the grimacing look at our heart health as a nation. According to a 2014 survey conducted by the American Heart Association (AHA), about 77.9 million Americans (1 out of every 3) adults have high blood pressure, “ouch!” Yet, lowering our risk may be easier than we realize and is something most of us can do. What is it?

Exercise: The best medicine for high blood pressure (HBP) – But what kind, how much and what intensity?

Many people with elevated blood pressure are afraid to begin exercising- when in fact, under the care of a physician, exercising is 'just what the doctor would order!' To put it simply, exercise strengthens your heart and a stronger heart exerts less energy as it pumps to the arteries, thereby lowering your blood pressure.

Hypertension, defined as a chronically elevated blood pressure greater than 140/90 mmHg, affects 3 nearly 75 million Americans, according to the AHA. This is alarming because HBP is a leading risk factor for stroke and heart attack. The biggest problem lies in the fact that many people are unaware they have HBP. That is why it is important to check your blood pressure on a regular basis. Thankfully HBP can be managed and reduced through moderate exercise and lifestyle changes.

For most healthy people, at least 150 minutes (two hours and 30 minutes) 5 times per week of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity, such as brisk walking is recommended. Some incorporate a walking routine into their daily schedule making it a habit they look forward to. Strength training should be included at least 2 x a week because it will build muscle that will burn more calories during the day promoting weight loss which in turn will help to lower blood pressure.

Stretching and flexibility training, including Yoga or Taiichi, helps the body move better, preventing injury. This type of exercise also helps in reducing emotional stress which can assist in lowering blood pressure.

For exercise to be effective, a person has to work out hard enough to benefit from the exercise! So how do you know what moderate exercise feels like? There a simple test for moderately intense physical activity- The talk test. If you can easily carry on a full conversation and perform the activity at the same time, you probably aren't working hard enough. In contrast, if you can exchange brief sentences easily while performing the activity, but not a comfortable or lengthy conversation, your intensity level is likely on target. How would you know if you are working too hard? If you get out of breath quickly, or if short sentences feel like a strain, you're probably working too hard, especially if you must stop and catch your breath.

What about results? It is important that you stick with it because once you start exercising regularly, it can take about three months before you see a significant impact on your blood pressure. For many people, the positive change experienced because of a regular exercise can eliminate the need for high blood pressure medications. Maintaining a healthy weight and lowering salt intake are other important ways to you can impact your blood pressure.

So now, let's do it! Make this February the month you started on the path to a healthier heart. To find out more information please visit for the American Heart Association.

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