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Tips for a Healthier Heart (and You) in 2021

Health Hub
Author name: Lee Health


Move more and sit less. It’s a mantra that can improve your overall health and quality of life.

You don’t have to exercise like an Ironman triathlete, either, to get the benefits of moving more and sitting less. Even a small bout of activity like working in your garden can lower your blood pressure and reduce your cholesterol and blood sugar levels.

So, if you’ve started the new year vowing to move more and sit less, Michelle Hudson, a personal health advocate at Lee Health Coconut Point, offers some tips that can help control your weight, reduce your risk of heart disease, and strengthen your bones and muscles.

All of this is especially important as part of American Heart Month in February.

Note: If it's been a while since you've exercised and you have health issues or concerns, it's a good idea to talk to your doctor before starting a new exercise routine.

How much physical activity is enough?

Hudson cites the American Heart Association’s recommendations of 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week. But if your chair or couch has long been your “go to” move for exercise, you should start out slowly.

“If you’ve been inactive for a while, choose an activity you enjoy. You’re more likely to stick with it,” Hudson says. “Start with small bouts of activity. For example, try walking or dancing. From there, you can increase your activity levels as you build up fitness and strength.”

Hudson says adults also need muscle-strengthening activity as well, like lifting weights or doing push-ups, at least two days each week, another recommendation in line with AHA guidelines.

“Including moderate-intensity strength training at least two days a week will help build muscle and reduce fat, which can help to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease,” Hudson explains. “It's going to help your body burn more energy because muscle also burns more calories than fat. And, as your body gets stronger, your heart will work more efficiently.”

No pain, no gain—no way

“The key to reaching your fitness goals is to work toward the recommended amount of exercise by increasing the amount of exercise as you get stronger,” Hudson says. “You may feel a little muscle soreness when you try a new activity or exercise. That’s normal and healthy. But if you develop pain during an activity, stop. Improving your fitness level should not cause pain.”

Start now: It’s that easy

The quickest way to get moving and improve your health is to start walking. It's free, easy and can be done just about anywhere, even in place.

What’s a good level of activity for me?

Hudson says your personal fitness level will determine how hard you will work during the activity.

“Some activities may be moderate intensity for an average person and vigorous intensity for others who are less fit,” she explains. “If your fitness level is average, a good rule of thumb to follow states that you should be able to talk during moderate-intensity aerobic activity but you can’t sing.”

Moderate-intensity aerobic activities include:

  • Brisk walking (at least 2.5 miles per hour)
  • Water aerobics
  • Dancing (ballroom or social)
  • Gardening
  • Tennis (doubles)
  • Biking slower than 10 miles per hour

Vigorous-intensity activities require a higher amount of effort. Your body will heat up and you won’t be able to talk without losing your breath.

Vigorous-intensity aerobic activities include:

  • Hiking uphill or with a heavy backpack
  • Tennis (singles)
  • Cycling 10 miles per hour or faster
  • Jumping rope
  • Running
  • Swimming laps
  • Heavy yard work like continuous digging or chopping firewood

The importance of stretching

Add some stretching exercises to your routine, Hudson says. “Stretching will help improve the vascular system by increasing blood flow to the body. It also helps your body to maintain flexibility, which is vital for preventing injuries and helping us to move with a good range of motion.”

The best way to maintain flexibility is to stretch regularly, at least once a day, Hudson advises.

Try these stretching tips:

  • Move slowly until you feel the muscle stretch. A safe stretch is gentle and relaxing.
  • Hold the stretch steady for 10 to 30 seconds. Do NOT bounce. Bouncing can lead to torn muscles.
  • Relax. Then repeat the stretch two to three times.
  • Be careful to stretch both sides of your body – stay in balance.
  • Stretch within your own limits.
  • Breathe slowly and naturally. Do NOT hold your breath.

Source: CDC National Diabetes Prevention Program: Post-Core 8

H2O does a body good

When you’re working up a sweat, your body is losing fluids. So, drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration. You’ll also help ensure that your blood pressure stays stable and help limit any muscle cramping, Hudson says.

“Try to drink about 7-10 oz. of water for every 10-20 minutes of exercise,” Hudson advises. “Drink water before, during, and after your activity. Don’t wait until your thirsty.”

Join the Virtual Revolution – For Free

Lee Health Healthy Life Centers’ virtual classes are free to our community. So, connect today to meet our certified experts whose passion (they love what they do!) will inspire and support you and your family’s health and wellness journey.

Our wellness navigators are also available to put you in touch with the right providers and services. At Lee Health, we’re here to support you.

Call 239-468-0050 or email [email protected] to learn more about Lee Health's virtual options.

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