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Get Moving to Help Your Heart

Researchers at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, La., studied about 400 women between 45 and 75. All were overweight or obese, sedentary, and had high blood pressure. Researchers divided the women into four groups, three of which exercised at different intensity levels and for different lengths of time. The fourth group remained sedentary.

Six months later, all three groups of active women had improved blood pressure readings, the researchers found. The numbers for the group that did the most intense exercise were only slightly better than those of the group that worked out least intensely. Though the women did not lose weight, they benefited greatly from better improving their cardiovascular fitness.

Regular exercise also helps reduce stress, says Bridget Berran, MA, a clinical exercise physiologist at Burke Rehabilitation Hospital and the Smart Fitness Center in White Plains, N.Y. When you’re under a lot of stress, your blood pressure can rise — another reason to begin and exercise program.
Ideally, Stevens says, everyone — especially those with health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure — should get at least 2 and a half hours of modest exercise every week. “Try for at least 30 minutes a day most days of the week,” she says, “and never go more than two days without any exercise.”

One of the best and easiest exercises you can do is walk. You can walk anywhere, and it doesn’t require any equipment beyond a good pair of sneakers. “I love for people to get outdoors and walk, but some are fearful of uneven ground,” Stevens says. If you’re walking hilly terrain and are afraid of falling, grab a walking stick. “It gives you that little bit of stability so that you can walk with confidence,” she says.

If walking around the block seems daunting, the thought of starting an exercise routine can be overwhelming. But don’t worry, says Stevens. Start small and walk for only five minutes, three times a day.

The key is to get started with a hypertension exercise program. After a few minutes a day, you’ll find it gets easier each time — and easier to add more time to each workout. Before you know it, those five minutes will become 10, and doing 10 minutes three times a day will add up to the 30 you need.

Another way to get started is sneaking short bouts of exercise into your day. Berran suggests:

• Parking a little farther from the entrance everywhere you go — to work, to the grocery, to doctor appointments

• Taking the stairs rather than the elevator if you’re going up one or two flights

• Putting the laundry away a few shirts at a time rather than all at once

• Carrying the groceries in from the car one package at a time

If you’re limited by back, hip, or knee pain, and even short walks are difficult, try a workout that doesn’t put stress on your limbs. Try walking in a heated pool — the warm water will soothe and cushion rather than stress joints. A recumbent bike may be another good option for you, Stevens suggests.

Once you start a program to combat high blood pressure and obesity, you need to stick with it. It’s not as hard as you think, Stevens says. You’ll feel better quickly, and that will be great motivation. You also can try these tips:

• Exercise at the same time every day. It’ll become a regular part of your routine, and it’s harder to skip.

• Wear comfortable clothes when you work out. If you’re exercising outdoors, dress for the weather — choose light layers you can peel off as you build up a sweat.

• Take your blood pressure before and after you exercise. “The benefits of exercise for lowering blood pressure are so dramatic that it’s a great motivator,” Stevens says.

• Set realistic goals for yourself. If you set a hypertension exercise goal you know you can’t meet, Stevens says, you’re setting yourself up for failure…

So, start exercising today.

Nature knows best!

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