Sept. 28, 2023

Heart-Healthy Living

Unveiling Canada's Exercise Guidelines
Older women walking together and laughing on a path in the summer

Did you know there is a vital connection between exercise, heart health, and Canada's 24 - Hour Movement Guidelines. Learn about the benefits of regular exercise, the different types of physical activities that can boost heart health, and the science behind why physical activity is so important for maintaining a healthy cardiovascular system. Finally, get easy-to-follow tips on incorporating more activity into your daily routine.

Introduction to Heart Health

Having a healthy heart is central to overall wellbeing. Your heart supplies nutrient-rich blood and oxygen to all parts of your body and removes waste, so when it isn’t working properly, your whole body suffers. Research consistently shows that exercise is a powerful way to optimize heart health and improve overall wellness. Physical activity boosts cardiovascular fitness, lowers stress and improves cognitive function.

Get Moving with Canada’s Physical Activity Guidelines

Intensity, type and accumulation of activity, along with other factors like the amount of sedentary time in your day, are important considerations for cardiovascular health.  The Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines were created using the latest scientific findings to improve overall health and wellbeing for Canadian adults. They offer direction on what a healthy day should look like.

The guidelines remind us that when it comes to physical activity, “some is better than none” and provide three key recommendations:

  • Move more
  • Reduce sedentary time
  • Sleep well

A Closer Look at the Guidelines

Let’s explore how you can take charge of your heart health by diving into the new guidelines, which tell us we should:

  1. Move More

Incorporate a variety of physical activities of varying intensities - into your daily routine. Adults should accumulate at least 150 minutes weekly of moderate to vigorous physical activity weekly (that’s less than 22 minutes per day), meaning you’ll work up a light sweat and find yourself breathing faster and deeper. Think brisk walking, cycling or swimming.

  1. Build Strength

Incorporate strengthening activities using major muscle groups at least twice a week. These are activities that increase muscle strength, power and endurance and strengthen your bones. Think squats, weight-lifting or heavy gardening.

  1. Improve Balance

Incorporate activities that improve your balance to help prevent falls. Think exercises like standing on one foot or walking uphill.

  1. Get Adequate Sleep

Get seven to eight hours of good-quality sleep on a regular basis. Be consistent: go to bed and wake up at or near the same time every day.

  1. Reduce Sedentary Time

Limit sedentary time to eight hours or less daily. Break up long periods of sitting by standing and moving around frequently.

How Will the Guidelines Benefit Health?

Following the 24-Hour Movement Guidelines reduces your risk of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and dementia. Physical activity not only helps protect your heart, but it can also improve your sleep pattern and mood, give you more energy and help you feel better overall.

How Does Exercise Impact Your Heart Health?

One of the key benefits of physical activity is that it boosts cardiovascular fitness. Aerobic exercises, such as brisk walking, cycling and swimming, get your blood pumping and strengthen your heart muscle.  In addition to improving cardiovascular fitness, aerobic exercise is linked to cognitive health. A University of Calgary study showed that regular aerobic activity improves thinking and memory skills in older adults.

Strength training, another essential component in the guidelines, is often associated with improvement to the neuromuscular system (especially in helping older adults maintain bone mass and prevent falls). But it also plays a crucial role in heart muscle function. A 2019 study published in the journal of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise found that resistance training lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease, including heart attack and stroke, by 17 per cent.

How Much Exercise Should I Do?

For the greatest impact, the guidelines suggest a minimum of 150 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous activity, along with strength training that uses large muscle groups, at least twice weekly. If that seems daunting, remember that activity can be accumulated in shorter bursts of activity.

Creating a Heart-Healthy Routine

Making activity a part of your everyday routine is important, but it can be a challenge. You can start slowly and gradually improve your activity level. Consistency will help you form healthy new habits. Remember, the guidelines tell us that every movement matters.

Ways To Make Physical Activities Fun

Exercise doesn’t have to be a chore: it can be fun! Engaging in physical activities that you enjoy can be a perfect way to bond with family, friends, and even co-workers. It is also a great way to spend some relaxing time alone.

Tips for Getting Started

  • Schedule a weekly walk with a friend or family member. This will increase accountability for both of you. Plus exercising with others is a great way to connect.
  • Take movement breaks throughout the day. Break up sedentary time as much as possible by standing and stretching.
  • Park further away when you are running an errand. Your physical activity times are cumulative so small changes can add up quick.
  • Develop good habits: try going for walk after dinner or getting up early to exercise. According to a 2021 study in the British Journal of Health Psychology, it takes an average of 59-70 days for habits to become automatic.
  • Log your activities. Keeping track of your activity is motivating. There are numerous free apps that you can install on your phone that will automatically track your steps and let you record activities. If you would rather track on paper, do an internet search for free printable activity trackers to see a variety of options.
  • Incorporate strength training. You don’t have to visit the gym to incorporate strength training into your routine. Resistance training can involve simple exercises, like leg lifts and wall push- ups.