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Everyday Heart-Healthy Exercise Tips

As published in Natural Awakening's February 2021 issue . . .

Baby, it’s cold outside, but we can warm up before Valentine’s Day with some heart-healthy tips for fitness and getting that heart rate up, not to mention changing our nutrition style to make our ticker a little bit more efficient.

Cardiovascular exercise is good for the heart, lowers blood pressure, regulates blood sugar and makes us sleep better, but those that are not enamored of doing traditional cardio can get their heart rate up by doing whatever it is they like doing, but faster or on different planes of motion. So, if we like walking, increase the intensity with a backpack and go rucking or turn up an outdoor walk by varying the speed, such as walking as fast as possible for one minute, then at a regular pace for two minutes off and on for 15 to 20 minutes a day or every other day.

The faster part can be accomplished with high-intensity interval training (HIIT) where we do movements at an increased pace for short bursts, but we can create the same cardio effect by working the heart on different planes. For example, “burpees” (a squat thrust with an additional stand between reps), are simply taking the heart from “up there” to “down there,” using bodyweight movement.

A burpee can be modified in many ways to suit a person’s current level of fitness. They can do a no-push-up burpee, step back into a plank instead of jumping back or even do a walkout in lieu of stepping back. All of these still take the heart through different planes of motion that create the cardio work we are looking for.

Also, yoga is not just for stretching and relaxation. If we truly follow our breath through each of the movements, that takes our heart into different planes; inhaling with one movement and exhaling with the other—that is cardio. A very good example is the structured flow of ashtanga or Bikram yoga. With poses as part of a set sequence, it’s easier to work on tying that breath to the movement because we know what’s coming next.

The last example for creating the “cardio effect” is using compound movements with weights. Weights increase the intensity of the movement without having to go faster. Adding weights to functional movements like squats (standing up/sitting down), deadlifts (picking things up), strict press (putting things away overhead) or push-ups (pushing a box forward) will increase heart rate when done effectively.

Now that we have jump-started our ticker, a little tune-up is in order. Some foods to consider for heart health are almonds, berries, dark chocolate, avocados and garlic, to name a few. Even though we know they are good for us, we still need to respect their caloric load. The more calorie-dense the food, the more nutritious it is, but also easier to eat in excess. So for those looking to get a routine jump started this winter along with the heart, think about a workout we will actually enjoy, kick it up a notch and have a piece of chocolate.

Rowena Dziubla is the owner and head coach at GET FIT EGV, located at 1100 Nerge Rd., Ste. 206, in Elk Grove Village.

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