February is known as Heart Health Month, but you don't need an official day or month to take care of yourself. On this Leap Day (bonus day), step out and do something for you. Move for your heart's sake. My favorite heart healthy motto is “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.”
So as we embark on another month, remember, as you work on maintaining your existing fitness routine or embark on a new one as part of your New Year’s resolution, just remember that getting in shape isn’t always about how you look on the outside – the inside matters, too. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and in Georgia, and women have it the worst – one in four will die of heart disease this year. Those statistics are even grimmer for African-American women whose risk for heart disease is the highest in the country.
While there are some things, like family history, that can’t be avoided, why not make strides to improve the things you can control to help prevent heart disease? Taking important steps like getting regular exercise, keeping your weight in check, not smoking and managing stress can go a long way toward taking care of your heart.
Now, I know getting heart healthy may sound hard, but it can be fun and simple – trust me on this one. As a trainer and fitness instructor, I’m often asked how I stay so dedicated to keeping fit. The answer is pretty simple – I love what I do. Instead of looking at improving your heart health as punishment, think of it as an opportunity to have a great time doing something you love and an excuse to let loose.
Here are a few tips for having fun, getting in shape and staying that way this month and beyond:
- If you don’t like it, don’t do it: Over the years, I’ve found that my most successful clients are the ones who find and maintain exercise routines that they actually like doing. If exercising in a group is your thing, find a class to join. If you like dancing, sign up for Zumba fitness, Group Groove or hip-hop class. Or if you’re a home body, get a DVD like inneractive FITCLUB FUSION to do in the comfort of your own living room.
- Don’t dehydrate: One of the most important parts of your exercise routine should be to stay hydrated. Doing so will not only quench your thirst, but keep your body stimulated during your workout. But this doesn’t mean you need to lug a gallon of water to the gym or drink the same thing every day. Mix it up a little to keep your taste buds excited. Instead of water, have your favorite low- and no-cal drink even those with caffeine – mine is Coke Zero. You might be surprised to learn that all beverages can hydrate and studies have shown that caffeine actually gives you a little boost before your workout.
- Deprivation is SO last year: A healthy diet and regular exercise go hand-in hand. But, staying heart healthy doesn’t mean you can only have bland foods and drinks. In fact, you don’t have to give up the things you enjoy. Treats like dark chocolate have been proven to be good for your heart. But the key is moderation. A little of the things you love can go a long way when it comes to keeping your weight in check.
- Fun is better when shared: As a group fitness instructor, I know the positive impact having a support system can have on health outcomes. Whether you’re comfortable in a group of strangers, friends or family, getting fit with a partner or many can help you stick to your commitment to better health. And don’t pay attention to what the person next to you is doing – move to the beat of your own drummer. As long as you keep your heart pumpin’ and your spirit movin’, you’re on the right track.
So I challenge you to take care of your body, both inside and out. Remember, the secret is to enjoy what you’re doing. Find something you love, get a group of friends together and encourage each other to stick to their health commitments. And with this in mind, you’ll be heart healthy in no time – and stay that way year round.
Amia Freeman is a parent, fitness expert, and a consultant to The Coca-Cola Company living in South Cobb County. For more about her, visit www.myinneractive.com.