By Laura Wambold
Laura is a trainer at Farmgirfit who also works at St. Luke’s in Cardiac and Pulmonary Rehab as an Exercise Physiologist and holds a Masters of Science in Exercise Physiology.
I am very excited to share my first entry to FarmgirlSTRONG during February, which is heart health month!
Our focus at Farmgirlfit is women’s health. Becoming Farmgirl Strong not only helps shape strong and lean bodies, so that you feel more confident in your favorite clothes, but also provides health benefits that cannot be seen, such as a healthy heart.
Heart disease is the number one killer of women in the United States. Current statistics indicate that one out of four women will die of heart disease, and that sixty percent more women die from heart disease and strokes than from all forms of cancer combined! It is also important to note that women are diagnosed less frequently than men and are less likely to survive a heart attack. This is largely due to the fact that the warning signs are less obvious in women. The good news is that heart disease is preventable and reversible!
To have a better understanding of what causes heart disease, it is important to know that coronary arteries supply your heart with the blood and oxygen it needs to do its job. When these small arteries become partially blocked, this is called coronary artery disease. The narrowing of the arteries due to plaque build-up is called atherosclerosis, which puts you at greater risk of a heart attack.
Certain risk factors of heart disease and the atherosclerotic process are beyond our control (genetics, age, and gender). However, there are a number of lifestyle changes we CAN make to offset these risk factors. Here are seven:
1. Quit Smoking. This is the #1 risk factor that you can change to reduce serious illness!
2. Improve Cholesterol Levels. Exercise and the inclusion of healthy fats in your diet have been proven to increase HDL cholesterol (your “good” cholesterol) numbers. It is also important to reduce the amount of saturated fat in your diet and eliminate trans fats. Finally, know your HDL (“good”), LDL (“bad”), total cholesterol, and triglyceride numbers!
3. Be Physically Active. Regularly exercising and improving your physical fitness help to prevent and reverse heart disease. We are certainly on board with being physically active at Farmgirlfit!
4. Control Weight and Waist Circumference. Make healthy nutrition choices and exercise (i.e.,DECREASE caloric intake, INCREASE caloric expenditure).
5. Maintain a Healthy Blood Pressure. Recommendations for healthy blood pressure levels are becoming more strict (less than 120/80 used to be considered healthy, now the goal is less than 115/75). Exercise has positive acute and chronic effects on blood pressure. The reduction of sodium in your diet can also positively affect blood pressure levels.
6. Control Blood Sugar Levels. For diabetics, controlling blood sugar levels means monitoring blood glucose regularly. If you are at risk or showing symptoms of developing diabetes, ask for a postprandial glucose test. Exercise also positively affects glucose levels.
7. Reduce Stress Levels. Stress is unavoidable in life and elevates our heart rate and blood pressure, among other negative consequences. Find what works for you to deal with the stress in your life (hint: many people find that exercise is a great stress reducer)!
Did you notice a common theme to reducing your risk factors? Yes, exercise!
A lot of the exercising we do at Farmgirlfit is considered functional strength training. This type of training is important to women’s health in many ways (including heart health)! Functional strength training, which includes body weight movements, kettlebells, plyometrics, and gymnastic movements, in addition to Olympic-style weight lifting, serves as the basis for the Grind, the meat and potatoes of what we do at Farmgirlfit.
Improving flexibility also has many heart healthy benefits such as decreasing blood pressure and reducing stress. There are a number of other great reasons to stretch including reducing and preventing injury, speeding recovery, and reducing soreness. Our additional Tues/Thurs offerings include Yoga in the mornings and Stretch & Sweat in the evenings. It is equally important to utilize the time after a workout to stretch and/or roll out!
Active “off” days that incorporate cardiovascular/aerobic exercise, such as going for a light jog or long walk, are a great adjunct to the Farmgirlfit routine. Since your heart is a muscle that supplies your body, working muscles, and itself with blood and oxygen, improving the strength, endurance, and efficiency of your heart will do wonders for performance and health.
A great motivator and way to implement more aerobic exercise into your routine is to sign up for an endurance event! Spokane is a hot-spot for team and individual athletic events for any age or fitness level. So take a look at your calendars and start planning ahead! Farmgirlfit members are always encouraged to ask a trainer for help with training schedules or selecting an appropriate level for the Grind, when training for an event. Using the Farmgirlfit blog to know the workouts ahead of time will be also useful for this reason.
When combined properly with sufficient muscle recovery time (remember, recovery is just as important as training), cross-training will benefit you, your heart, and your performance.
Here’s to a heart-healthy February and a safe, adventurous, and enjoyable 2012!