CardiacCare—Celebrate American Heart Month with regular exercise

February 2012 View more


When I thought about the heart before I ever was involved in the fitness industry, I didn’t think about it from a medical perspective, rather part of someone’s character. I knew people who had poured their heart out, others who had their heart broken. There were those who had a heart the size of Texas and some who seemed to have a lack of heart. The one thing I didn’t realize then that I know now is that disease of the heart can be the most lethal of all.

February is American Heart Month, a great opportunity to better understand our heart and what we can do to keep it beating strong for a long time. Heart disease is the number-one killer of men and women in the United States. Though often thought of as more of a “men’s disease,” women account for nearly 50 percent of heart disease deaths.

Dr. Jim Ostrenga has been practicing interventional cardiology in Naperville at Edward Hospital for almost 30 years and is a proponent of staying active for the heart’s sake. “Cardiovascular disease continues to be the leading cause of death for both men and women in the U.S.A. But multiple studies show that regular cardiovascular exercise for many individuals can be a very effective and an inexpensive therapy to reduce the risk of heart disease.”

Aside from reducing your risk of heart disease, multiple studies show that regular exercise can reduce blood pressure, LDL (bad) cholesterol, and insulin requirements for diabetics, as well as lead to weight loss. Regular exercise also increases HDL (good) cholesterol and aerobic capacity.

You may know someone who suffers from high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes; all of these are major risk factors for cardiovascular disease, particularly coronary artery disease. However, those predictors need not be a death sentence. By simply adding a regular exercise program to your current lifestyle, these risk factors can be controlled.

The one caveat in all of this seems to be time. Most people believe they don’t have the time to exercise. There is plenty of research to show that a little bit of something is better than a lot of nothing. You just need to start somewhere. Consistent exercisers all had a starting point from which they gradually built.

I liken creating a healthy lifestyle to building a house. It starts with a blueprint: This would be a list of your goals that you’d like to complete and a schedule of your exercise intentions, or action plan. Once you see the blueprint, it’s time to pour the foundation, which compares to simply getting started. Your foundation may begin with five, 15-minute walks per week. Once the foundation is poured, it’s time to build the frame—that’s your nutrition. Focus on including more fruits and vegetables and avoid fried foods as well as protein high in saturated fat. Next, focus on putting in the walls and creating rooms—that’s adding something new to your walking program. It may include strength training, a yoga class, or spinning. Finally, the detail pieces: Decorating, window treatments, plumbing, etc.—those translate into fine tuning your exercise and nutrition, making tweaks when and where they are needed.

For those of you who have actually built a home, you know how long it takes. It is no different for developing a sustainable exercise program—it takes time. You add as you go, and just like building a home, there will be things you want to change and tweak until it’s as you like it.

Are you doing your part to take care of your heart? Dr. Ostrenga says, “For individuals who have known cardiovascular disease, regular exercise may well be lifesaving. Patients who have suffered heart attacks and then participate in a formal exercise program like cardiac rehabilitation have been reported to have a 20 to 25 percent death rate reduction compared to nonexercisers.”

At the end of the day, facts are facts. The best thing you can do for your health and your future is to develop and maintain a regular exercise program. Your heart will thank you.

For more information on the American Heart Association, visit