Exercise. Love it or loathe it, it’s one of the number one ways of keeping our hearts healthy. At age 16, I suffered a massive heart attack from a blood clot, but the fact that I was co-captain of my school tennis team and in good physical shape is one of the reasons I was able to survive such a major event. While I waited 9 months for my heart transplant, doctors emphasized how much exercise would help for a successful operation. Now that I’ve had my heart almost 14 years, I realize how fortunate I am to have received it, and I try to stay active to ensure it keeps ticking.
- The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise (30 minutes, 5 days a week), or 75 minutes of rigorous exercise (25 minutes, 3 days per week).
But let’s face it: it’s not always easy. For those of us who are “allergic” to the monotony of treadmills, many gyms offer classes ranging from disco spin cycling to hip hop and break-dancing. But gyms can also be expensive, and sometimes it’s hard to carve out time in our otherwise busy lives. Despite these barriers, there are fun, creative ways to help exercise seem less like a chore.
- Break it down: 150 minutes a week sounds pretty daunting. Even 30 minutes seems like a lot of time to spare most of the week. But breaking that time into shorter intervals: 15 minutes in the morning, 15 in the evening, makes it more digestible.
- Make it less deliberate: I find that exercise feels less like an obligation and more “unintentional” when I build it into my everyday routine. Since I live in NYC, this might mean getting off the subway a few stops earlier on my morning commute, but it could also mean taking the stairs instead of the elevator in your office building or parking further away. Every little bit counts.
- Make it an excuse to socialize: I’ve always enjoyed taking long walks. Not only is it a great way to take in fresh air and scenery, it gives me span of time to catch up with family or friends. Back in the days when I was still rebuilding my strength, my parents would bring along a wheelchair in case I needed to rest midway. Now when my parents visit, we always make time to wander through the park, stroll by the waterfront, or meander through a new neighborhood. Having set plans with an exercise buddy also makes both of you accountable to each other in achieving your goals.
- Make it rewarding: Whether it’s swimming at your local pool, organizing a dance party, or co-opting your kids’ video game system for Wii fitness or Dance Dance Revolution, there’s no reason “exercise” has to be traditional. Running or walking in support of charities like Harboring Hearts can also motivate you when every extra mile means helping others.
No matter how you choose to stay active, it’s important to always consult with your doctor if you’ve been dealing with health challenges. But with a little creativity, you may find yourself enjoying exercise in spite of yourself. Your heart will thank you for it.