Haven for Heart Health

The American Heart Association hopes to create a culture of health in the Coastal Bend.

By: Erin Wilder

Spring has sprung! Put down the smart phone. Turn off the TV. Grab the hand (or leash) of the person (or animal) next to you, and go outside for a brisk walk and a laugh. Your heart, and the heart of the person (or animal) you take with you, will thank you for it.

While walking is one of the best forms of physical exercise, our Coastal Bend lends itself to some of the most exciting outdoor physical activities in the state of Texas. Just outside our backdoor lies a haven for heart health. Wind and water sports, camping, walking or jogging along the beach, hike and bike trails and dozens of easy-to-access parks are all ours for the taking – we just have to open the door and literally put one foot in front of the other.

The American Heart Association (AHA) hopes families throughout our community realize that exercise doesn’t have to be boring, overwhelming or costly. The hard part is making the decision to get off the couch (or to put down the phone) and be active. You don’t have to exercise until you’re exhausted. Just get your body up and get moving today!

How much physical activity should I be getting to stay healthy?

To improve overall cardiovascular health, AHA suggest adults get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise (or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity). Thirty minutes a day, five times a week is an easy goal to remember.

AHA recommends children and adolescents get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity every day. Examples include bike riding, swimming and brisk walking. Vigorous activities include jogging, soccer, aerobics and dancing. And yes, plain-old going outside and playing hard also counts as an example of a heart-healthy activity that can produce overall physical, psychological and social benefits.

How can I make physical activity part of my family’s routine at home?

• Go outside and play instead of watching TV or sitting down and playing games on the computer.

• Try brisk walking, dancing or biking for some fun physical activity.

• Don’t fast-forward through TV commercials. Instead, do jumping jacks or sit-ups throughout your favorite show.

• Work in the garden or mow the grass. Using a riding mower doesn’t count! Rake, prune, dig and pick up trash.

How can our Coastal Bend community help ensure kids get enough physical activity in school?

Physical education, or P.E., has been taught in American schools for more than a century – teaching students what it means to live a healthy lifestyle. Regular physical activity is associated with a healthier, longer life and with a lower risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, mental health problems and even some cancers. These benefits extend into the classroom, too. Studies have shown that active children perform better in school, behave better in the classroom and have a greater ability to focus.

Because physical activity improves academic performance, it can also become an important strategy to address health disparities like childhood obesity and the achievement gap. Despite these benefits, P.E. programs have been decreasing around the country. The AHA recommends strong quality P.E. in elementary schools for a minimum of 150 minutes per week and 225 minutes a week for middle schools, as well as accountability reporting on P.E. programs in elementary, middle and high schools.

The time for action, both at home and in our schools, is now. Together, the AHA, our volunteers and the community can create a culture of health in our Coastal Bend community where the healthy choice is the easy choice. Now get out there and move!

Erin Wilder is the executive director for the American Heart Association, Corpus Christi. You can encourage legislative, educational and community leaders to support effective P.E. programs by joining our You’re the Cure grassroots advocacy network at www.yourethecure.org. And for healthier living resources, recipes and guides the whole family can enjoy, visit www.heart.org/healthyliving.

Photos courtesy of American Heart Association