Keep an Active Piece of Summer in Your Heart

Guest post from Dorothea Vafiadis, MS, FAHA, Director of Healthy Living at the American Heart Association

Why do we sometimes get the blues at the end of summer? Is it because of the long, hot days beating down and drying out the landscape? Watching the days shorten and the mornings and evenings darken? Or is it the anticipation of giving up the casual summer clothes and vacation activities, and thinking ahead to tighter routines?

It’s natural to think of summer as a freer, more active time. But, as fall approaches and back to school mode creeps in, we don’t have to give up on the fun or abandon our physical activity routines. We can do ourselves a favor, and plan now to take the aspects of summer that we like and integrate them year round into a regular pattern for a healthy lifestyle and a healthier heart.

It’s important to exercise regularly, because the effects of exercise ebb away once physical activity stops. Most studies suggest many of the key benefits are lost in four to six weeks of inactivity.  So, keep that physical activity going and don’t let the blues cut your summer short or take a toll on your heart health.

What activities have been fun for you this summer? Motivation is a key consideration in keeping up an exercise routine. Having a workout partner also helps many people adhere to their physical activity plans. If you enjoyed that summer walk, picnic softball game or swim with the kids, think about ways to continue similar activities into the fall. Research has shown that people will be motivated more to participate in physical activity if it’s something they enjoy, feels like a positive experience and helps them feel relaxed or reduce tensions.

From the public health perspective, we know that even modest increases in weekly physical activity could have fairly profound health impact. Given that prevalence rates for physical activity remain low, encouraging a positive experience is key.

Continue biking and walking to the places you need to go daily (school, work, and stores); if the darkening evenings make that a challenge or if there is limited access in your neighborhood, consider an early morning or evening brisk walk in an indoor area – like a community gym or shopping mall.  When outdoor pools close this season find an indoor pool and try setting up a regular time you – and maybe the whole family – go for a swim.

For overall cardiovascular health, the American Heart Association recommends adults 20 years and older should get at least 150 minutes weekly of moderate intensity activity or at least 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity, or a combination.  The corresponding goal for children is at least 60 minutes of moderate- or vigorous-intensity activity daily.

Consider ways that to take advantage of the physical activity resources available in your community, including at faith-based organizations and your workplace.  Thread a little piece of summer physical activity into your fall, move more and sit less and you’ll brighten your life with a healthier heart.