Monday Medical: Get moving for a healthy heart |

Monday Medical: Get moving for a healthy heart

Susan Cunningham For Steamboat Today

As heart month comes to a close, it's a good time to remember one important step for keeping your heart healthy: exercise.

"Exercise really increases your circulation and makes your heart and lungs work more efficiently together," said Susan Cowan, cardiac rehabilitation coordinator with UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. "When your cardiovascular system becomes more efficient, there's less strain on your heart."

A regular fitness program provides a range of benefits, from helping to prevent issues such as high blood pressure and diabetes, to making it easier to do the things you love, whether that's traveling or playing with your grandchildren.

If you want to exercise more but don't know where to start, check out the tried and true recommendations Cowan outlines below.

Start slow

Beginning to exercise can be challenging for anyone, especially people who have suffered from a heart attack or other heart issues in the past.

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"People have concerns about what's safe, what they can do, are they doing too much," Cowan said. "There's that whole fear of, 'Can I really trust my heart?'"

Cardiac rehabilitation helps relieve those fears. By starting slow and doing supervised exercises while on a heart monitor, patients have confidence that they won't get hurt. A slow progression can also be helpful for people who are new to exercise.

"Start slow, then add more time and effort until your efficiency increases," Cowan said.

Exercise with friends

Besides being fun, having a friend to exercise with is good motivation.

"I always encourage people to find an exercise buddy," Cowan said. "If they don't want to go one day, the exercise buddy's supposed to say, 'We have to go.' And it adds a social dimension."

Keep the end goal in mind

Not enjoying exercise isn't reason enough to give it up.

"Exercise is a means to an end," Cowan said. "Not everyone loves exercise. So for most people, the message needs to be that they can increase their fitness level through exercise so that they can go do the things they enjoy."

Be creative

Cowan often recommends walking for exercise – it's something that everyone can do out their front door, and is possible even in cold winter months.

"People will walk laps at Walmart if they can't be outside," Cowan said.

But don't hesitate to mix it up. Doing yoga, riding an exercise bike or even taking the stairs instead of the elevator all count towards your daily exercise quota. Just be sure your exercise of choice is convenient.

"The more convenient it is, the more likely we are to do it," Cowan said. "If you have to drive somewhere to go to a gym, that decreases the chance it's going to happen."

Give it time to become a habit

Cardiac rehabilitation programs typically last six to 12 weeks, which is just long enough to develop new habits.

"That's how long it takes for most people to settle into new behaviors, to make those changes and imprint them on their daily lives," Cowan said. "Exercise should become like brushing your teeth or taking a shower. You don't even think about not doing it."

And once someone is in the habit of exercising, it's easier to keep going.

"By the end of 12 weeks, many patients are saying 'I haven't felt this good in a long time,'" Cowan said. "That's the big sell, that you can have more energy and feel better. And, it's great for your heart."

Susan Cunningham writes for Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at