Staying motivated, staying healthy

With far-reaching progress in diagnosis and treatment, more people than ever before are surviving heart attacks in Canada. Yet many Canadians are not making the changes needed to stay healthy. 

According to the latest report by the Heart and Stroke Foundation, it’s now well understood which behaviours increase risk, but gains have not been made in helping people make the necessary lifestyle changes to reduce their risk. “We have lost an incredible amount of ground in physical activity, healthy weights (overweight and obesity), nutrition, and diabetes,” says the report.

Cardiac rehabilitation

At St. Joseph’s Cardiac Rehabilitation and Secondary Prevention Program, regular exercise and eating well is a key focus in helping patients recover from a heart event. But the team recognizes that staying motivated can be a challenge. For Heart Month, the expert team offers these valuable tips to stay on track during recovery and to reduce the risk of suffering more heart trouble:  

If just starting out or re-starting your exercise program:

  • Focus on duration first. Keep your exercise fairly light. It might take you a month or more to build up to the recommended amount. Remember, all exercise sessions should start with a 5- 10 minute warm-up (light walking) and a 5 minute cool-down (light walking) 
  • Focus on intensity second.  Once you are able to perform 30 minutes of continuous aerobic exercise, try increasing your pace to a feeling of ‘somewhat hard’ or brisk. Your breathing should increase but if you are not able to talk while exercising, you are working too hard
  • Listen to your body. If you are limited by pain or are new to exercise, break your exercise session into smaller bouts a couple times a day.  You will receive the same cardiovascular benefit from performing a 15 minute exercise session, twice per day as you would from a continuous 30 minute session. 

Sticking with an exercise program requires a commitment. To increase your chance of successful exercise maintenance:

  • Choose an exercise mode and location that you enjoy. Consider the following:
    • Convenience – ‘Not enough time’ is the number one excuse for not exercising.  Make sure you choose an exercise location that is close to either home or work that will fit nicely into your routine.
    • Atmosphere – You want to feel comfortable in your exercise environment. If you do not enjoy the gym atmosphere, consider home equipment. If you would rather exercise with others than alone, consider group exercise classes.
    • Price – Your health is the best investment you can make. If cost is an issue there are many low cost and even free options for regular exercise. Walking is one of the best exercises for cardiovascular health and free – look into trail walking, mall walking or schedule daily walks around your neighbourhood!
  • Staying motivated is easier if you:
    • Find yourself an exercise buddy 
    • Record your exercise in a diary
    • Keep setting smart goals regularly
    • Reward yourself with incentives as you meet your goals along the way – e.g. buy yourself a new exercise outfit or a new cd
    • Exercise to music you enjoy and that invigorates you
    • Hang something on your fridge that will motivate you to exercise and remind you of why exercise and staying healthy is important – a motivational   quote, picture of your family, etc
    • Make sure your exercise equipment is accessible.  Do not hide treadmills under piles of laundry.  Put your walking shoes by the door so they are visible to you each day. Leave your exercise ball in your living room – instead of the couch, sit on the ball while watching TV.
  • Avoiding lapses. Missing one day of exercise will not be detrimental to your exercise habit or your health – but a number of missed days in a row.  The best way to avoid lapses is to expect and plan for them.  Identify high-risk situations that may lead to missing exercise days (travel, holidays, illness) and have a plan for getting back on track. Take time to identify the barriers that get in the way of your regular exercise plan, realistically assess them, and come up with solutions for you to overcome them. We all make excuses! 
  • Avoiding plateaus.To continue to maintain and improve your fitness level:
    • Shake up your workout –Variety is the spice of life. It doesn’t take long for your muscles to adapt and get used to your workout routine. Using a variety of exercise equipment provides a new challenge for muscles.  
    • Interval train – Play around with the intensity of your workout.  Add 1 – 3 minute intervals of slightly higher intensity to your workout by changing the speed, incline, or level. Try a ‘hill program’ or a ‘random program’ on treadmills, bikes, or elliptical machines.
    • Pump it up – Incorporate 2 –3 days of resistance training into your routine using weight machines, hand weights, exercise ball, resistance bands, or even your own body weight (Pilates).
    • Mind-body connection – Health of the mind can affect the body and vice versa. Consider taking a yoga or tai chi class to supplement your cardiovascular and resistance training workouts.

About the Cardiac Rehabilitation and Secondary Prevention Program

St. Joseph’s St. Cardiac Rehabilitation and Secondary Prevention Program, located at St. Joseph’s Hospital, is a six-month program requiring a physician referral. Men and women with known heart disease –for example those who have had a heart attack, angina, angioplasty or heart surgery – work with the interdisciplinary team to create and follow an individualized program. Those who have recently experienced a heart event are a good candidate for cardiac rehabilitation. It is a safe and effective way to overcome some of the physical complications of heart disease, limit the risk of developing more heart trouble, assist in the return to an active social or work schedule, and improve psychological well-being. Learn more about the program at

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