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CAT | Heart Health

stairs-peopleAmerica has an obesity problem, and our lack of physical activity is a big part of it. Researchers from Stanford University found that the number of U.S. women who said they didn’t exercise rose from 19% to 52% between 1988 and 2010, while the number of men who didn’t exercise jumped from 11% to 43%. During that time, obesity rates rose by an average of 12.5% in both groups.

Because obesity and heart disease are so closely linked, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends at least 30 minutes of “moderate physical activity” five times per week as part of their Life’s Simple 7™ campaign to improve nationwide heart health and help people live longer, healthier lives—and studies show taking the stairs every day is a pretty good start.

Not only can climbing a flight of stairs just three times a day burn 15 calories (according to a recent University of New Mexico study) but it can also help lower heart disease and stroke risk and help maintain healthy blood sugar and metabolism, says Dr. William Abraham of the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

Experts also point out the benefits of stair climbing for helping to build leg, abdomen and lower-back strength, all of which are important as we grow older and start to lose muscle mass.

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heart-stethoscopeInstead of just offering advice or handing them a pamphlet about the importance of a healthy diet and lifestyle, new recommendations from the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) say health care practitioners could be doing more to help their overweight patients lower their risk of heart disease.

In particular, patients with excess weight coupled with key risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and elevated blood sugar levels would do better with “intensive behavioral counseling,” according to a recent review of nearly 75 different studies focusing on lifestyle intervention techniques for overweight individuals with heart risk factors.

According to the USPSTF, patients who met with their doctors more frequently and who had recurring sessions with trained nutritionists, dieticians and other health educators were able to lose more weight and significantly reduce their risk of heart disease and diabetes. The key, said USPSTF Chair Dr. Michael LeFevre, is the ongoing one-on-one counseling, which helps to assess each patient individually and reinforce healthy habits such as regular exercise.

The new recommendations are similar to those issued by the USPSTF in 2012 (which focused solely on obese patients without heart disease risk factors). However, according to LeFevre one of the biggest limitations when it comes to providing such intense counseling is that unlike the larger health organizations, many smaller, solo practitioners lack the time and resources necessary to provide this level of focused treatment. Still, he encourages health care providers to do what they can to promote heart-healthy living.

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