By: Kimberly P. Champney, MD, MSCR / Northside Hospital Cardiovascular Care
Note: November 17 is National Take a Hike Day! To mark the occasion and the importance of physical activity, Dr. Kimberly Champney accepted our invitation to write this relevant blog.
It’s time for the holidays, and chances are your calendar is filling up with opportunities for family time, gatherings with friends, and a tempting array of food and drink. We all know that moderation is one of the keys to good health, and there’s another one we can’t forget, even when the weather gets chilly. Exercise!
As a cardiologist at Northside Hospital in Atlanta, I see lots of examples of good and bad health habits. Those habits can have life-changing results on one’s heart – and mind. Physical activity has been linked to both mental and physical wellbeing in multiple studies. Being physically active has numerous proven health benefits. Exercise or consistent physical activity will reduce your risk of diabetes, hypertension, heart attack, stroke, dementia, and breast cancer.
BENEFITS OF STAYING ACTIVE: It is difficult to quantify the benefit of regular exercise. However, studies have shown that exercise is associated with an approximate 30% benefit to the risk of death. This risk reduction is similar to that of the risk reduction associated with blood pressure medications and cholesterol-lowering medications. In other words, regular exercise is at least equally beneficial to your risk of death as taking blood pressure and cholesterol medications.
HOW MUCH EXERCISE IS NEEDED? The American Heart Association/American College of Cardiology recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise weekly. That’s 30 minutes, five times a week, taking a brisk walk. It can be broken up into shorter or longer periods of exercise. Three 10-minute walks a day with your dog, three one-hour long walks with a friend, you get the picture! It is important to remember two things. First, keep exercise at least moderately strenuous. For example, you may need to speed up your dog at times to get your health benefits in. Second, exercise does not have to be extremely strenuous to be beneficial. Walking at a moderate pace is good for your body and soul.
OUTSIDE ACTIVITY: All physical activity/exercise is beneficial. However, activity outdoors has other known benefits. Outside activity increases exposure to sunlight, which can increase vitamin D levels. Low vitamin D has been associated with cardiovascular risk. Studies have shown that walking outdoors with exposure to trees has decreased self-reported stress/anxiety.
The Georgia Forestry Commission is part of a forestry group that is promoting exposure to trees and its positive link to one’s health. Much of the current research can be found at https://healthytreeshealthylives.org/.
I hope that this holiday season keeps you on track with your good health program, or at least inspires you to get outside and take a brisk walk after enjoying that piece of pumpkin pie!
- Exercise and physical activity in the prevention and treatment of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease. A statement from the Council on clinical cardiology (subcommittee on exercise, rehabilitation, and prevention) and the counseled on nutrition, physical activity and metabolism. 107:3109-3116
- Psychological benefits of walking through forest areas. International Journal of environmental research and public health. 2018.15(12): 2804
- A dose response curve describing the relationship between Urban tree covered density and self-reported stress recovery. Environment and behavior. 48(4):607–629.