Plunging Into Heart Health
February is here and hearts are everywhere.
What a perfect time to talk about heart and cardiovascular system health.
February is in fact Heart Month!
|There’s no question that heart and cardiovascular system health is important, but what exactly should we do to support our health? Is it cold plunges? Is it HIIT classes? Is it Intermittent Fasting? How do we choose wisely?
It’s easy to get lost in the fads and influencers’ ideas of what’s hot right now in health. But are there any clear, evidence-based guidelines? Do we know anything for sure?
This is a question of Fundamentals vs Supplementals.
The Fundamentals of Health are truths that have clear and consistent evidence. We can say with confidence that we know the following are essential to our health:
- Physical Activity
- Stress Management
The Heart and Stroke Foundation lists physical inactivity, unhealthy diet, and stress as lifestyle risk factors for Heart Disease.
But can we go deeper than that? How much activity? What activity? Do those recommendations change with age or certain health conditions?
In 2020, the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (CSEP), ParticipACTION and the Public Health Association of Canada (PHAC) released “The Canadian 24 Hour Movement Guidelines: An Integration of Physical Activity, Sedentary Behaviour, and Sleep.” These guidelines give us more guidance on what to aim for with physical activity and sleep.
How much Physical Activity do I need?
The guidelines are clear: “Your whole day matters.” And working towards any of these targets can improve your health.
For Adults aged 18 and older:
- 150 min of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity each week.
You can divide this up throughout the week any way you like. This could look like five 30 min walks per week. Or it could be shorter walks during the week and a longer bike ride on the weekend. Perhaps you attend a fitness class two times a week, swim two times a week, and go for a hike on the weekends. However you add it up, try to include a variety of types and intensities of activity.
- Strength training 2 times per week.
Focus on major muscle groups as a start, then progress. Exercises like squats, lunges, step ups, push ups, and bend over rows are a great place to start. Physiotherapists and Kinesiologists are good resources for setting up a program tailored to your current level of fitness and health goals.
- Several hours of light physical activity including standing
For people that work at a desk, a sit-stand desk can be a game-changer here. Also, all the times you get up to grab something count–whether you are at home or work. Parking a bit further away counts, too. It all adds up!
In addition to the recommendations above, Adults aged 65 and older have one additional physical activity recommendation: Balance training. And if you have Osteoporosis, the Osteoporosis Society recommends balance training exercises daily. Again, Physiotherapists and Kinesiologists are experts at setting up balance training programs that meet your needs.
How Much Sleep do I Need?
Regular, good quality sleep is essential. This includes a consistent bed and wake up time. The number of hours of sleep recommended varies a little by age:
- Adults aged 18-64 years: 7-9 hours per night
- Adults aged 65 years and older: 7-8 hours per night
If you are waking up more than one time a night–especially if it’s to use the bathroom–it’s time to talk to your healthcare provider. A Pelvic Health Physiotherapist can help with those annoying bladder symptoms.
What about Sedentary Behaviour?
Surely we can spend some time watching our favourite show or our favourite team, right? The guidelines recommend limiting sedentary time to 8 hours or less per day. Just be sure to break up long periods of sitting or your body won’t feel it’s best.
It can be hard to know where to focus our efforts to improve our health.
Starting with the fundamentals (Physical Activity, Nutrition, Sleep, Stress Management) and optimizing those areas first, will get you on the right track to good health.
In fact, the Heart and Stroke Foundation states that almost 80% of premature heart disease and stroke can be prevented through healthy behaviours.
Once that is established, then look to the evidence for supplemental activities, like cold plunges. Supplementals may or might not be right for you, but the fundamentals will always be your keystone.
Wendy Hancock is an Orthopaedic and Pelvic Health Physiotherapist.
Ready to feel your best?