Published: Jul 29, 2008 06:16 PM
Modified: Jul 29, 2008 06:16 PM
In my last column, I discussed the impact of diet on your heart and some tips on developing a strategy for eating well and eating healthy at the same time. To me, a good diet always goes hand in hand with a sound fitness strategy.
Healthy eating and exercise go together for many reasons. Regular exercise helps us to develop better eating patterns. Exercising can actually reduce the tendency to unhealthy snacking, and people who exercise regularly are more likely to eat three well-balanced meals each day.
Exercise and a good diet also work together to improve our mental well-being by reducing tension and improving sleep patterns, and exercise and diet have a synergistic effect to reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels and decrease the likelihood of developing diabetes.
Maintaining physical fitness has all kinds of other benefits too. So many of the inconveniences of getting older can be attributed to lack of physical conditioning. People who are fit have an easier time of chasing after their kids and grandkids and enjoying their free time. Exercise helps to ward off problems like arthritis and osteoporosis and keeps us mentally sharper.
Most importantly, exercise combined with a good diet is the best way to prevent or reverse obesity. We talked about the obesity epidemic our society faces in the last column, and the many diseases including heart disease that are more common in people who are overweight.
There are so many diets and exercise programs that come and go, but at the end of the day the only sure way to lose weight and keep it off is to burn more calories though exercise than you consume in your diet. This is easiest to achieve when you work both sides of the equation by reducing caloric intake through a healthy diet and also increase the calories you burn through physical activity at the same time.
If you exercise regularly, then I'm telling you things you already know. You know the mental lift and energy that you get from exercise and how much easier it is to manage your weight. You also know the sluggishness you feel when you fall off your exercise regimen, even for a few days.
If you don't exercise but want to, you probably have had one or more of the following common reactions:
You may think that you have to exercise at high levels of exertion for long periods of time every day to make a difference, and you'll never get there. Not true. Physical conditioning is a step-by-step process for everyone, even for people who are now exercise fanatics. Find a physical activity that you enjoy, and consider the health benefits a perk. You may become a fanatic down the road, and you may not. It shouldn't be your goal, though.
You may think you don't have time. Also not true. I believe that 30 minutes of exercise three times a week is a great goal for those who are starting out. If that's all you can do, then fine. Just keep it up.
You may think you aren't in good enough shape to exercise. I'll admit that it is daunting to start exercising after a long period of inactivity. A little support can help during this startup phase. Begin your new exercise regimen with a friend who is in the same situation, or look for entry level exercise clubs through your local sporting goods store.
I get asked a lot about whether you need a doctor's advice before starting to exercise. If you don't have any major medical problems, the answer is generally no. However, if you are in need of a checkup anyway, this could be a good time to do it.
If you do have medical problems, especially heart problems, you should definitely check with your doctor. Exercise is rarely prohibited by any medical problem, but there may be certain types of exercise to avoid and things to be on the lookout for. If you have heart disease, you may qualify for a cardiac rehabilitation program, and that's a great way to get the best exercise prescription for your heart health.
Regardless, remember that exercise is recreation. Enjoy the mental and physical benefits, but best of all find a form of exercise that brings you ineffable moments of bliss.
Cam Patterson is chief of cardiology for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine, UNC Hospitals, and the UNC Health Care System.