Healthy heart interview with Nicola Hall - exercise

5th September 2012

Exercise is good for the heart. It’s good for the whole body, in fact, and we should all be doing it, but how much? How often? How is it good for us? Nicola Hall works for Spire Southampton Hospital’s Weight Management Service ‘The Weigh Ahead’. She is a practitioner of exercise science and nutrition, and she’s given us some fantastic advice.

Why is exercise so good for us?

“The benefits of exercise are often promoted, and if we’re honest we all know that exercise is good for us, but I often find the patients I see don’t know why it’s so good for them, and it’s this information that can provide a great catalyst for getting active.

 “Let’s start with the heart itself. Your heart contains muscle, and we have over 650 muscles in the body. The more you use your muscles the stronger they become, and all forms of exercise can help to strengthen your heart.

“As it gets stronger it will work more effectively to keep blood pumping around your body, which in turn can reduce the pressure on your artery walls. This means your heart may pump less times per minute than weaker hearts, but could still perform at the same rate – a definite positive!

“Exercising can also increase the speed at which your body burns calories, known as your metabolic rate, helping you lose weight more effectively. Carrying excess weight puts pressure on your heart, and exercising can help you to maintain a healthy weight. 

“By keeping active your body can also help to manage the levels of fat and cholesterol inside you. There are good and bad forms of both inside all of us, and we need some of it to keep functioning properly, but too much can be dangerous and can put your heart at risk. Regular exercise helps your body to get rid of body fat and ‘bad’ cholesterol, helping to protect you and your heart.

What if people have a medical condition or are on medication?

“Some people worry that if they have a medical condition, have had an operation or are on medication they cannot exercise, but in fact it can be very beneficial when part of a medically approved exercise programme. For people with diabetes, for example, exercise can help to improve glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity.

Do you have any tips for people who aren't used to exercising?

“When you haven’t exercised in a long time, making a start will take effort, but I always tell people if you keep at it, it will get easier. It is a person’s own responsibility to go out and get moving, however they choose to do it, and no one else can do it for them. A great way to make progress is to set smart goals. If you haven’t ever tried running and set a goal of completing a marathon, it seems a huge task to undertake, but if you start with a goal of running a mile, the sense of achievement when you reach that goal and can move onto the next one will help spur you on. 

“It can be difficult to know where to start or what goals to set, and I often advise patients to think about what they find difficult day to day. If it’s hard to get up the stairs without getting out of breath, then you should aim to climb the stairs a number of times every day, until you can go so more easily. Of course, I would advise that you seek medical advice before beginning any new exercise programme or increasing your activity levels to ensure you are safe to do so. 

 “If you are unsure what is the best type or level of exercise for you, check the Register of Exercise Professionals for specialists working in your area. They can guide and support you in embarking on an exercise programme, taking into consideration your history or condition, and many people find having someone to work alongside or check in with helps motivate them to keep going. 

“If you don’t feel the need for a personal trainer and you have a smartphone or internet access, there are a range of great apps and websites that will count calories, provide instructions on various exercises, and motivate you by keeping track of your progress.

“Another great reason to get active is that you naturally release endorphins when exercising, and this is the chemical in the brain which makes you feel good – I’m sure we’d all like some more of that! The increased body movement will also release muscle tension and help you to relax afterwards, which can help you get more restful sleep.

Some people feel they don't have any time to exercise, can you offer them any advice? 

“There are a lot of excuses people give for not being able to exercise, and some of the most popular include not having the time, but exercise doesn’t have to mean hours at the gym. Even just 10 minutes a day can make a difference, and you will find that over time you get better at what you’re doing, finding it less of an effort. If you think about it you can find lots of ways to incorporate exercise into your life: try taking stairs instead of a lift, or when you’re at home and you go upstairs, come back down and go up again. You’ve immediately increased your heart rate and doing this every time is a great way to get a few minutes of exercise. Housework can also be good exercise – push a bit harder when mowing the lawn or vacuuming, and notice how you get out of breath!

How can people get the best results from exercise? 

“To get the best results, it’s important to take part in a variety of exercises if you can, combining aerobic exercise and weight bearing activity or resistance training. This will challenge your body in the most effective way, helping you to build stamina, burn calories and fat and improve muscle tone and strength, which in turn makes you feel great.

“It’s easy not to think too much about the health of your heart until something goes wrong, but it performs a vital role and should be looked after. Make a start today, and you could be on the path to a healthier future.” 

The Weigh Ahead

Nicola Hall is ‘The Weigh Ahead’ Tier 3 NHS Weight Management Service Lead, and has worked at Spire Southampton Hospital for a year.  She has also worked as a specialist Personal Trainer and a lecturer in sport and exercise science and nutrition. The Tier 3 weight management service accepts referrasl from Hampshire PCT and Southampton City PCT GPs.  ‘The Weigh Ahead’ has been operational for over a year and has accepted well over 500 referrals and is helping patients lose weight and in certain cases, prepare for NHS funded weight loss surgery.

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