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Cardiopulmonary Health

By Alan Williams, PT, OTR/L, ATC, CSCS

It beats approximately 2.5 billion times in the average human lifespan, pumping between 5,280 and 6,240 quarts of blood daily. They contain 1,500 miles worth of airways, each filled with millions of cleansing alveoli that, if laid side by side, would cover the same surface area as a tennis court. Together they are a powerhouse that helps propel humans onward as they run the Boston marathon, swim the English Channel, or climb Mt. Everest. I’m of course talking about the heart and lungs, the foundations of the cardiopulmonary system.

Because it consists of perhaps the two most important organs in your body, the health of your cardiopulmonary system is indeed a matter of life or death. According to the American Heart Association, over 425,000 Americans die of a heart attack annually – that’s more than 1,000 people every day. And although serious, heart attacks aren’t the only thing threatening your cardiopulmonary system. A multitude of diseases and other conditions (including pulmonary embolism, lupus, pericarditis, pleuritis, infectious pneumonia, and coronary artery disease, to name a few) spell danger for your heart and lungs. Some of us are more susceptible to these diseases because of genetics, and there’s little we can do to change that. But many of us also increase our risk by our lifestyle choices. Smoking, eating an unhealthy diet, being overweight, not exercising – engaging in these habits is like putting your cardiopulmonary system in the center of a big target. Sooner or later, you’re going to get hit.

The good news is we can all take steps towards a healthier cardiopulmonary system TODAY. By quitting smoking, eating healthfully, and losing excess weight, we can add years to our life. And by adding exercise, we create for ourselves a stronger heart and stronger lungs – a cardiopulmonary system that will be stronger to help fight off threats, genetic or otherwise. A healthy cardiopulmonary system is the gift that literally keeps on giving.

Current guidelines advise all adults aged 18-65 to engage in 30 minutes of moderate-intensity cardiovascular exercise (meaning that the activity is light enough for you to carry on a conversation, but hard enough that you cannot sing) at least five days weekly, or 30 minutes of high-intensity cardio exercise (meaning you cannot say more than a few words without pausing for breath) at least three days weekly. Adults older than 65 or those with conditions affecting their cardiopulmonary function should receive 30 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio exercise at least three days weekly. But before beginning your exercise program, make sure you have your doctor’s approval.

Thirty minutes may seem like a lot, especially if you’re out of shape. But it doesn’t have to be. Break it up – two 15 minute sessions, three 10 minute sessions, or even five 6 minute sessions will achieve the lung and heart-healthy results you’re looking for. And if you choose an activity you really enjoy, time will fly by even faster. So what do you love to do? Skiing, ultimate frisbee, swimming, biking, soccer, dancing, touch football, walking, martial arts, aerobics classes, basketball, hiking, playing tag with your kids or grandkids – the possibilities are endless, and the choice is yours! Suddenly 30 minutes doesn’t seem so bad.

In addition to your regular exercise program, find ways to move more during the rest of your day. Gardening, cleaning house, walking the dog, and using the stairs are all ways to sneak more activity into your daily routine. Try to find a new one each week and make it a habit. Park at the far side of the lot and walk to the store. Rather than lying on the couch to watch TV, sit on an exercise ball to build your balance. What else can you think of?

Our cardiopulmonary systems are built to work, but it’s up to us to keep them working well. So grab Fido’s leash – it’ll be good for the both of you.

Don’t let pain keep you from getting in shape. Call 463-0022 today for your FREE Pain Assessment!

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