Exercise your way to a healthy heart.

February is known for celebrating Valentine’s Day, but it’s also American Heart Month, which aims to raise awareness of heart disease and encourage people to decrease their risks.

In Pasco County, heart disease was the No. 2 killer in 2018, according to the Florida Department of Health. And in Hillsborough, Hernando and Manatee counties, it was the leading cause of death that year.

What’s sadder is that most of these cases could have been prevented. Up to 80 percent of cardiac events are related to lifestyle choices, according to heart.org.

Think about what you do for your heart. Are you eating enough fiber? How is your fruit and vegetable consumption? Do you smoke or drink heavily? Are you sedentary? Making lifestyle changes can decrease your chances of heart disease, even if age and family history are not on your side.

What role does exercise play in heart health?

Just like working out different muscle groups makes them stronger, your heart is a muscle that should get a workout to keep it strong, too. Cardio workouts improve circulation, which reduces your risk of clots and blockages, and improves heart efficiency by decreasing your resting heart rate.

Such exercise also increases the blood pumped per beat. Furthermore, your body increases its ability to transport oxygen. Daily activities can become easier to do. Other benefits of cardio include lowered blood pressure, raising good cholesterol, lowering bad cholesterol and better insulin sensitivity, according to the American Heart Association.

For aerobic exercises, 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week is recommended or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week. Are you meeting these guidelines? And how can you tell if your cardio is at a moderate or vigorous level?

Moderate activity means you can’t sing, but can still talk. Vigorous activity allows you to say only a few words. If you can sing, you are not pushing yourself hard enough. If you don’t have any physical limitations and aren’t in pain, try to up your game until you can’t sing to give your heart a good workout.

Remember, you can break up your physical activity throughout the day, as long as you are getting your heart rate up and passing the talk test. You even can split it up into three, 10-minute increments — before work, during your lunch break and after work. And if you are new to exercise, always let your physician know your goals before starting.

In addition to cardio workouts, resistance training, such as lifting dumbbells, using weight machines, resistance bands or body-resistance exercises such as push-ups and squats, should be done at least twice a week. Having lean muscle mass improves body composition and increases metabolism.

The road to good health is yours to travel. But you don't have to do it alone. Whether you're managing a health condition or making changes in your life like quitting bad habits or getting in shape - we can help. Check out our new classes and resources below. Contact us to set personalized health and wellness goals and learn about the programs available to you.

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