Maintaining an Active, Healthy Heart

Start your regimen with a little wisdom

Frederick LoughWith spring comes yard and garden cleanup. But before you start digging, weeding, raking and hauling, check with your physician to assess whether or not your heart is up to the task. If so, it’s time for some good, common sense.

Frederick Lough, MD, Clinical Director of Cardiac Surgery and a cardiothoracic surgeon at The George Washington University Hospital, provides tips for seniors to help them maintain a healthy heart.

“It all comes down to wisdom,” he says, meaning we all need to think first and follow basic guidelines about our health, whether we’re in our 50s or 80s.

Exercise is essential

With wisdom comes understanding that exercise is important at any age. The greatest exercise is taking a walk. “Seniors should walk for time, rather than distance,” Dr. Lough says. “It’s much better to go for 20- or 30-minute walk, rather than trying to walk five miles. Taking a shorter walk every day is better than taking a longer walk one day and not being able to walk the next two days because you are sore.”

While exercise machines are fine, Dr. Lough advises walking outside whenever possible. Besides the added benefit afforded by breathing fresh air, sometimes “treadmills actually run you,” he states. When you exercise on a machine, the machine is doing some of the work.

Regarding yard work, the advice is that you need to pace yourself and don’t try to do it all in one day. It’s wise to break up a larger project and take on the smaller parts one at a time, rather than doing it all at once.

Dr. Lough also recommends starting a weightlifting program when nice weather arrives, since weightlifting will improve cardiovascular fitness. “Certainly don’t begin with heavy weights,” he says.

“But it’s wise to start some kind of exercise program to maintain your strength prior to a big yard project.” He notes it’s easy to find weightlifting exercises for men and women in their 70s and 80s online. When it comes to exercise, variety is what promotes health, he says. “Walk one day, swim the next,” says Dr. Lough. “It’s the frequency of doing it, and preserving your strength that has such a positive effect on overall health.”

Posture counts

While good posture may not be something emphasized in medical school, according to Dr. Lough, it’s important. “It’s a function of good muscle and balance,” he says.

Posture can come in particularly handy if, for example, someone needs to undergo cardiac surgery, which Dr. Lough notes is a “physical event.” Too many times, he sees patients hunched over after surgery trying to compensate for the pain or the incision. When good posture is cultivated over one’s lifetime, recovery after surgery can be enhanced.

“Stand in front of a mirror and make sure you are straight,” says Dr. Lough. He offers another simple tip: “Every day when you’re brushing your teeth, look out toward the horizon, don’t bend over the sink.” Even though we may think we are walking straight, posture becomes harder to maintain as our bodies age, he says.

Now is the best time to start

The good news about maintaining an active, healthy heart is that it’s never too late to become smart about how to go about it.

“It’s never too late to be wise,” Dr. Lough says. “We know that smoking is bad for your health, we know that obesity is bad. An unwise person won’t stop smoking, and every day will feel the same. A wise person realizes these changes don’t happen by themselves. You have to take ownership, and change things one day at a time.”

Dr. Lough says following “a wise approach to living” is important. It’s never too late to make changes to your life. And, he adds, the lifestyle changes you make are more powerful than medications, especially as we age.

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Health Tips
for Active Seniors

Dr. Lough offers these suggestions:

  • Stay hydrated — Drink plenty of water before you walk. “You should also adjust your hydration levels based on your age, fitness level and the temperature outside. Drink one 8-to-12 oz. glass of water before heading out on your walk, and if you are going to be out longer than 20 to 30 minutes, bring a bottle of water with you,” Dr. Lough says.
  • Be cool — Walking into town at high noon might have been important to John Wayne, but it’s not a good idea for you. “Walk when it’s not so hot,” Dr. Lough says. “Take your walk in the morning and not during the hottest time of the day,” which is typically between 11 a.m. – 4 p.m., depending on where you live.
  • Put your best foot forward — It may be prudent to wear a cheap pair of shoes, but having good footwear will help you have a successful walk. Don’t skimp on shoes.
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Maintaining an
Active, Healthy Heart

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