Heart Month & the Lifetime Half Marathon

Dr. Allan Stewart discusses Heart Month in February and why he participated in the Lifetime Half Marathon in Miami, Florida. Read on the importance of endurance exercise for the heart.

Heart Month & the Lifetime Half Marathon

On Sunday morning, I ran the Lifetime Half-Marathon in Miami, Florida.

Because I preach wellness to my heart patients, both before and after heart surgery, I think it is essential to “walk the walk” (or run, in this case!).  Because 13.1 miles requires a bit of time to complete (In my case, 2 hours), I had some time to think about the benefits of exercise on the heart. The first obvious benefit is heart rate management. Most runners were wearing some device to track heart rate during exertion, as this is a data-driven way to measure effort. However, the true benefit is in lowering the resting heart rate, by strengthening the cardiac muscle.

You see, exercise has the same effect as the most prescribed blood pressure medication (Beta-blocker). Regular exercise lowers the resting heart rate and blood pressure; the same effect as a Beta-blocker. Lowering blood pressure is a major benefit to reducing the risk of heart disease.

As I continued to run over the bridge into South Beach (the place most visitors, think is all of Miami), I noticed how to fit most runners appeared. Of course, there is a wide variety of body types, but very few people running a half-marathon are significantly overweight. Admittedly, there is selection bias, but exercise and combination with caloric restriction is a key component in weight loss and maintenance. Being overweight creates stress on the heart and is a significant risk factor for type II diabetes, which is a key factor in coronary artery disease. Exercise can reduce the risk of developing diabetes by almost 50%.

After about six miles, I noticed a good number of runners stopping in the portable bathrooms for a quick bladder break. What I did not notice, at any point on the run through Miami beach, was any runner stopping to smoke a cigarette. Endurance athletes rarely smoke because it makes them less effective. Substituting exercise for smoking is an effective meaning of quitting and is a great asset to the body, as cigarettes are quite destructive to the blood vessels of the heart.

Although running a half-marathon is a stressful event, there is a big difference between a stressful event and chronic stress. Stress hormones, like cortisol, can put an extra burden on the heart. Exercise, in all forms, eases stress (at least temporarily) and centers our minds. Regular exercise is often referred to as the most underutilized anti-depressant.

A combination of aerobic workouts (heart elevating work-out including walking, running, swimming) and strength training (weightlifting, resistance training) is considered best for heart health. Pairing regular exercise with a Mediterranean-type diet will create a host of positive heart-healthy changes resulting in improved quantity and quality of life.

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