February is Heart Health Month, and a good time to check in to see how our lifestyle is supporting our cardiovascular health. Dr. Raphael See, Cardiologist with the Vanderbilt Heart and Vascular Institute discusses the role of physical activity in the prevention of cardiovascular disease.
Bridgette Butler: Welcome to this edition of the Vanderbilt Health and Wellness Wellcast. I am Bridgette Butler with Health Plus. February is Heart Health Month and a good time to check in to see how our lifestyle is supporting our cardiovascular health. Here to speak with us today about the role of physical activity in the prevention of cardiovascular disease is Dr. Raphael See, cardiologist with the Vanderbilt Heart and Vascular Institute. So, Dr. See, how does physical activity promote cardiovascular health?
Dr. Raphael See: Physical activity is very important to promote cardiovascular health, both in the treatment of cardiovascular disease and also to prevent cardiovascular disease in the first place. It reduces a variety of risk factors that are known to lead to cardiovascular disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, overweight status, even diabetes. In fact, we have a variety of medications that treat all of these risk factors, but none of these have been as reliably beneficial in the prevention of cardiac disease than regular exercise. In fact, if I am ever seeing an individual in the office, and they have a choice between taking some of these medications or promising me that that person will exercise regularly, I would, without any hesitation, pick that they would regularly exercise every single time.
Bridgette Butler: So, now, what does regular exercise look like? What are the recommendations for physical activity in the prevention of cardiovascular disease?
Dr. Raphael See: So, the American Heart Association came out with a single guideline recommendation for what they thought would be the ideal amount of exercise for everybody to participate in, and that would be a cumulative amount of 150 minutes per week of moderate-level physical activity. So, while some people could try to do all 150 minutes per week in a single go, that's really not recommended and probably not really realistic for most people. So, 150 minutes for many people would translate into about five days per week of about half an hour of physical activity, which is doable with a fair bit of discipline and effort.
Bridgette Butler: It does sound doable. Now, I have been hearing this new adage of "move more, sit less." Is it true that just getting moving, no matter what it looks like, is better than no activity at all?
Dr. Raphael See: That is absolutely true. You know, we used to have this idea that there was some minimum threshold of physical activity below which you may as well not bother. That is that, if you didn't have time to get in a 20-minute workout or 25-minute workout or half an hour, then you may as well not try, and we've seen now, very consistently across the board, that this is not true. So, there is no minimum amount, no minimum threshold below which you don't get any benefit, and in fact, there is no single person that doesn't stand to benefit either. This has been shown to apply to the very young, the much older, and everyone in between. So, this really does apply to every single person that can move.
Bridgette Butler: So, how might someone get started being more physically active? How do we get moving?
Dr. Raphael See: Well, that is challenging. I mean, so many of us are very busy, and it can be really difficult to get in a regular exercise routine, especially if you are not accustomed to doing that. So, a few pointers that I usually tell people, who find the prospect of getting into a regular exercise pretty daunting is, first of all, to commit to a specific time that you can work into your schedule. That is, if you try to wait until it becomes convenient or you have extra time lying around to start your workout, most people will never really want to do that. So, coming up with a plan, a plan that you can write down and a plan you can check yourself against, will help, and I think the other thing that helps a lot is to find somebody else to do it with. It's much easier to decide that you just don't feel up to it if you are just accountable to yourself rather than if you have to tell your exercise partner that you are just not feeling it today and you'd rather just sit out. So, having somebody else, that accountability, is really key to getting started.
Bridgette Butler: So, what kinds of physical activity do you enjoy, and what keeps you motivated to continue doing it?
Dr. Raphael See: Well, that's a good question. You know, there are a number of individuals who are fortunate, in that physical activity and exercise and athletics have always come naturally to them, and I admire that, but I have just never been one of those individuals. Now, that being said, I decided at one point that I did want to become more intentional and regular with physical activity, so I got onto a regular routine with an exercise machine, an elliptical machine, and one of the ways that I made that more tolerable is that I decided to watch a T.V. show that I really enjoyed but only allowed myself to watch that when I was on the machine. So, I had something to look forward to. It would reliably end on a cliffhanger and I would not permit myself to watch it except that I was on the machine, and after a while, staying with that consistently, I didn't necessarily even need the T.V. show to be able to be motivated to exercise. Now, I still would prefer to be able to watch an interesting show while going on the machine. So, that's really helped with consistency, but above and beyond that, the nice thing about exercise is that every little bit helps. You can do so many things with your family that are enjoyable, and we, as a family, enjoy bicycling. We like to chase each other around the yard and the house with nerf guns and an impromptu wrestling match. I have four young boys, so it's never a challenge to find an opportunity to be physically active, and that is a rewarding thing and it's a healthy thing, too.