Here’s to a very healthy heart…

Dr Jo-Anne Kirby

September is Heart Awareness Month, and you can become a heart hero by choosing to make a promise:

A promise to our families to cook and eat more healthily;

A promise to our children to exercise more and help them to be more active, to say no to smoking and help our loved ones to stop;

A promise as a healthcare professional to help patients give up smoking and lower their cholesterol;

A promise as a policymaker to support policies that promote healthy hearts; and

A promise as an employee to invest in heart-healthy workplaces.

What is BESST for your heart? B: Blood pressure check; E: Exercise; S: Salt, reduce salt intake; S: stop smoking T: talk about risk factors, spread the message.

Now let us delve more into this exercise thing. There are two aspects to it, firstly reducing inactivity/sitting time and secondly increasing your intentional exercise.

Reducing inactivity, here are some examples, and use your imagination to expand it. Use the stairs instead of the lift, walk to your colleague instead of emailing them, talk in person to your family instead of WhatsApping them (or if they’re not in the same building, stand while you’re on the phone calling them).

Do one leg squats while waiting for the kettle to whistle, or do calf raises while standing in a queue.

Never sit more than 30 minutes without standing up. Bosses, allow people to stand in meetings and create an environment where this is possible; your employees will remain more awake and attentive.

Children, use the advert breaks on TV to physically get up and move. Parents, enforce limitations on screen time.

Pupils or students, are you losing concentration while studying? Don’t take a nap do a set of push- ups, sit-ups, jumping jacks or anything physically active. You will feel more awake and have better concentration afterwards. Swop your chair for an exercise ball.

Now about that intentional exercise: it does not have to be organised sport, but it should be intentional activity to raise your heart rate while physically exerting yourself for a set amount of time, while relaxing at the same time.

If this sounds like an oxymoron, let me explain: compare housework, which is not relaxing (to most), to getting out of doors and going for a walk in a pretty park: the former exhausts, the latter refreshes. But is walking enough exercise?

That depends on your fitness level… do the talk test: if you can talk but not sing while doing the activity, then it is in the zone we would classify as moderate activity.

If you are completely unable to talk, then it is vigorous activity. You need 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise as a minimum a week, or 75 minutes of vigorous per week or a combination.

Moderate exercise gives you the most benefit to your immunity, concentration, memory – and reduces stress levels, anxiety and depression, as well as reducing your chances of developing Type 2 diabetes, and improves glucose control and blood pressure control, and reduces your risk of heart attacks and some types of cancer.

I do not believe that there is such a thing as someone who simply does not like exercise; I feel you have simply not tried all the options available and found something that suits you. Be creative, you do not need a gym membership. Do you like being with people (consider joining a sports club), or alone?

Do you like thinking while you exercise (i.e. Zumba, formal dancing, flamenco/ Latin /modern), or do you want to zone out (running, swimming, cycling)?

Would you like to learn a skill (how about fencing, horse riding or a martial art), or do you work funny hours and would rather do something in your lounge (skipping, dancing to music or a video).

How about actually taking your lunch break, leaving your PC and getting outside?

What about hopping on an exercise bike while watching TV or reading a book, yes, it’s possible…

You also need strength and balance exercise twice a week, this could be body weight exercise (or gym) or something like yoga.

How about making use of that lovely outdoor gym in the Jan S Marais Park in Stellenbosch?

Happy exercising!

Dr Jo-Anne Kirby is the campaign coordinator for Heart Awareness Month, and a medical doctor and sports and exercise medicine practitioner at Stellenbosch University.