Today marks World Heart Day, a day that aims to educate people about the dangers of neglecting heart health and share the actions that everyone can take to have a healthier heart.
We Are Undefeatable (WAU) is a campaign developed by 15 leading health and social care charities, funded by Sport England and the National Lottery, that supports those living with a range of long-term health conditions to find a form of movement that works for them. For World Heart Day this year, WAU wants to highlight how physical activity can provide a multitude of benefits for people with long-term health problems such as a heart condition, by not only aiding in preventing further implications, but also relieving stress and uplifting moods.
Sharing the story of Heraldo, who lives with a heart condition but still manages to fit physical activity into his daily life, We Are Undefeatable want to highlight the benefits that staying active can have on our heart health.
“When I’m active, it’s as if my body releases some sort of drug that makes me feel good about myself.”
Getting older hasn’t stopped Heraldo from wanting to be active, but his heart condition and prostate cancer made things more complex. He’s found that some things that were never particularly difficult in the past are now nearly impossible, including some of the exercises he used to do before. By trying a new activity, he found something he enjoys – and something that works out muscles he didn’t even know he had.
Heraldo has found that Pilates classes help strengthen him, while also being an activity he’s able to do. He also works moving more into his daily routine, walking, cycling, and chatting with the people he meets along the way.
Heraldo relishes the level of independence being active gives him. In fact, he’s been able to return to watching Arsenal play at home and enjoys the chance to “mingle with the other Gooner faithful.”
We conducted a short Q&A with Heraldo to gain some more insight into how physical activity has benefited him:
- What are your weekly physical exercises?
“My weekly cardiovascular exercises include cycling and walking to the local fruit and vegetables market and to local shops. I also go for walks through the park and along the canal a few times a month.”
- How has physical activity helped you manage your heart condition?
“I had a leaking aortic valve and a rapidly expanding heart, which was life threatening. The Consultant Surgeon suggested remedial open heart surgery as soon as possible.
After surgery, the enlarged heart was still a concern for my Consultant Surgeon, so I was advised to do a post surgery rehab course, designed to strengthen the heart, as well as other body parts impacted by surgery.
Once I had completed the post-surgery rehab, I then renewed my gym membership and signed up for weekly Pilates sessions to keep moving. I began to frequently use the apparatus in the gym, and bought myself a bicycle so that I could get additional physical exercise too.
After about a year of weekly physical activity, the Consultant Surgeon monitoring my health post surgery, informed me that my heart had begun to decrease in size! A clear sign the physical activity was helping my heart health move in the right direction.”
- Why do you think being active is such an important part of life?
“Being active is a very important part of everyday life for me, as I value my independence. With the range of activities each day, the chores, the tasks one has to achieve, I feel blessed to be able to actively participate. When We Are Undefeatable got in-touch, I didn’t hesitate to support as I know first hand how important physical activity can be when living with a long-term health condition. For me, it not only helped with my heart, but also lifted my spirits and made me feel proud of my progress.”
- Have you always been active?
When I was younger, I enjoyed a Sunday football general kick-about with friends, nothing major. With the Sunday afternoon general kick-about slowly coming to a halt in adulthood, I took to jogging and gym workouts. I stopped that when my heart condition happened, but glad to be building up my levels of physical activity again since recovery.”
- What’s your favourite way to boost your mood?
“There are several ways in which I boost my mood. On completion of my weekly exercise sessions, be it at home, in the gym, cycling outdoors, or the occasional stroll, I always feel much better for it.
Going to the Arsenal football stadium on match day usually boosts my mood too, especially when we win and I get to celebrate the victory with other Gooners.”
Tips* from British Heart Foundation (We Are Undefeatable charity partners)
*Please note that the below are general tips and you should always speak to your GP or specialist about what exercise might be right for your particular heart conditions before undertaking anything new.
1. Start small
Try breaking down your exercise into short sessions throughout the day and build up from there. You could start by taking a 10 minute walk, or doing a homework that suits your energy levels that day.
- Be realistic about your goals
Set yourself realistic goals that are achievable yet still fun. For example, you could set a goal to do a short walk to the shops once a week instead of taking the car, or taking up daily evening yoga.
- Make exercise part of your day
Plan a time to do some physical activity that fits in with the rest of your day and try keeping an activity diary to help monitor your progress and success. If you miss a day, don’t worry – you can try again when you are feeling more up to it.
- Keep moving
Remember, everyday activities count, so look out for opportunities to be active during the day while you’re in or outdoors. For example, you can do some stretches while watching TV, squats while waiting for the kettle to boil, ride your bike to the station or take the stairs instead of the lift.
- You don’t have to go it alone
Involve friends and family by going for walks with them, or join an exercise class together to make activities more fun, sociable and enjoyable.
- Make sure you get plenty of variety
Make a list of enjoyable activities you can do such as dancing and yoga, and place them in a jar. Pick a different activity to do each week. By varying your activities, you are less likely to get bored and lose interest.
- Set reminders where you can see them
Prompt yourself to be more physically active by setting reminders. Put Post-it notes on the fridge door or by the kettle, or set daily reminders on your phone.
- Keep an eye on your progress
You can use a pedometer to count the number of steps you walk each day. It’s easy to use and can be fun to set daily goals for yourself.
- Reward yourself
Recognise when you achieve your goals. Think of things that you could reward yourself with, like a copy of your favourite magazine, a new pair of trainers or a massage.
- Follow a video as a guide
It can be hard to incorporate physical activity into your daily routine when you’re unsure of how to start. Following a step by step video is a less daunting way to start getting active.