exercise

American Heart Month: Taking Action to Protect Our Health

February is American Heart Month! To help spread the word about heart health, EPA scientists and staff will write each week about the Agency’s Green Heart effort to educate the public about of the connection between air pollution and your heart. Be sure to check back each week to learn more, and for tips on what you can do to stay healthy!

By Wayne E. Cascio, MD

It’s February and Heart Month has arrived and with it a reminder to think about what we can all do to stay well and keep our hearts healthy. As a cardiologist, the month-long focus on the heart gives me a great opportunity to share information with my patients—and now hopefully with anyone who reads this blog—on how they can protect their hearts. It also reminds me to think about the things I do that can hurt or help my heart.

Heart disease remains the number one cause of death in the U.S. for men and women. Less than one percent of Americans have ideal heart health and about 26.5 million have some type of heart disease.

But there are things we can do both individually and collectively to help our hearts. The Global Burden of Disease 2010 study recently published in the medical journal The Lancet describes 67 key factors affecting disability and death in North America. Among the top 20 risk factors, 19 are directly related to individual behavioral or lifestyle choices such as diet, exercise or smoking; or the consequences of those choices.

The remaining risk factor in the top 20 is not associated with individual lifestyle choices, but is more a consequence of our collective actions, namely what we do as a society that leads to air pollution. Air particle pollution (also known as soot) in particular is ranked as the 14th most important.

While in general we have little personal control over air pollution where we live, work and play, there are things we have done as a society that can have lasting positive impacts. The Clean Air Act, for example.

The Act strives to ensure that all Americans are breathing healthy air.  Research by EPA and others shows that improved air quality leads to healthier and longer lives. And thanks in large part to that research, the Agency recently strengthened the annual health standard for fine particle pollution (PM2.5)  (from 15 to 12 micrograms per cubic meter) to  make our air cleaner and healthier.

While EPA continues to work to keep your air clean, there are steps you can take to reduce your personal exposure to air pollutants. For one, don’t smoke and avoid the smoke of others. Second, if you have heart disease consult the Air Quality Index (AQI) as part of your daily routine. The index provides information on air quality and how to avoid unhealthy exposures when air pollutants are high. Simple things like limiting or avoiding exercise outside during high pollution days can help to protect your health and your heart.

So keep in mind during this month of the heart, healthy lifestyle choices including a healthy diet and regular exercise, keeping an eye on your local air quality report, and supporting actions to support clean air are all things we can do for a healthy heart.

About the Author: Cardiologist Wayne E. Cascio, MD is the Director of EPA’s Environmental Public Health Division, a Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a Fellow of the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology. Dr. Cascio’s research explores the effects of air pollution on the heart and blood vessels.

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Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Science Wednesday: Exercise? Oh yeah

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection.Previous Science Wednesdays.

By Susan Stone

Do I need to exercise? You bet. We all do, because exercise is so important for health. I especially need to exercise to get my weight into a healthy range. That additional weight, and my mild asthma, puts me at greater risk from air pollution. And eventually, my age will add to that risk.

People with asthma are at greater risk from exposure to ozone. It can cause difficulty breathing and make them more likely to respond to asthma triggers, like pets, that may not normally cause a reaction. Particle pollution can aggravate asthma, too. It also can trigger heart attacks, stroke and irregular heart rhythms, all of which I want to avoid. And the risk of a heart attack or stroke starts to go up at age 45 in men and 55 in women. So I want to minimize my air pollution exposure, for several reasons. But I really need that exercise at the same time.

Figuring out how to get that exercise and reduce exposure to air pollution can be a challenge. So checking the Air Quality Index (AQI) has become part of my daily routine.

Here’s what I do. I love to take walks in my neighborhood. It’s a pretty walk, with hills and a pond. My normal route is a couple of miles in the shape of a figure eight. The middle of the eight is closest to my home. On days when ozone levels are high, I’ve noticed that sometimes I get what feels like a stitch in my side that makes breathing painful. It doesn’t go away even when I get warmed up. So when ozone levels are high, I take it easier. If I get to the midpoint of the figure eight and feel good, I keep going. If the stitch in my side is there, I pack it in and go home or exercise indoors.

Ozone levels typically are lower indoors, but particle levels can be high even inside. So if the AQI indicates that particle pollution levels are in the unhealthy ranges, or if I smell smoke, I’ll go exercise at a gym, or take a walk through the buildings at work. But even though I’m indoors, I take it easier and pay attention to any symptoms.

Exercise? Oh yeah. It’s important for good health, and it’s a great stress-reliever. And with a little planning, you can exercise outdoors, even if you’re considered at greater risk from air pollution. Even if you’re not, check the AQI every day. It’s a healthy habit.

About the author: Susan Stone is an Environmental Health Scientist and likes to walk in her neighborhood every day, weather permitting. She checks the AQI on her computer, but you also can download a free app for iPhones and Android phones. Visit Airnow to find out how.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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CHILDHOOD OBESITY PART II: Staying Active

Every morning I walk through the lobby of my apartment building, passing a group of kids who are waiting for the school bus. What are they doing as they wait? They aren’t talking to or playing with one another. They’re “playing” on their BlackBerrys. The BlackBerry: a gadget made for business people, not for seven-year-olds as a substitute for tag or basketball.

Not only cell phones, but other technological advances have made children more sedentary. Videogames, computers, and iPods have given children a way to stay “active” without actually being active. These activities do not involve much movement beyond the comfort of their own home or couch. It seems that children are having more fun interacting with technology rather than with one another. They are choosing inactive doings rather than active, such as, participating in sports teams or playing outside.

Physical activity seems to be diminishing more and more everyday. No longer do we see kids playing outside until dark. We don’t even see kids out on the playground at recess much anymore. In some of the schools that I have volunteered, the children are even given a choice as to whether they want to go outside or play inside on the computers or in the library. Only for asthmatic children who can’t play outside with poor air quality is this a choice worth having. Physical education is seen less in school systems as well. Although it still may be present, the time spent in P.E. is much shorter and it can be said that the activities are less strenuous than in the past.

The purpose of this two-part blog is to show the two main causes of childhood obesity. It is not enough to just eat right or to just exercise appropriately. The two must be done together. Obesity is a two-part fiend that can be solved with the right diet and exercise. We must ensure that our kids are healthy now such that they can be healthy in the future and for the rest of their lives.

About the author: Nicole Reising is an intern at the Office of Children’s Health Protection. She is a sophomore studying non-profit management at Indiana University.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Heat, Environmental Factors, and Working Out

I have always liked working out outdoors. While I exercise indoors at the gym most of the time, during the weekend I like to go running and walking along a trail by the Bayamón River banks. The beautiful scenery and birds are part of what makes this workout something I look forward to the whole week. However a recent diagnosis of temporary high blood pressure prevented me from working out for a few weeks. Resuming exercise involved only working out indoors and eliminating all high intensity workouts. At first, I was reluctant to refrain from running outdoors. So I have resumed my runs at a slower pace and during the early morning hours.

While I am sunwise during outdoor activities and protect my skin from UV rays by wearing a wide baseball cap, sunscreen and sunglasses, I was not aware that other environmental factors can contribute to heart disease and aggravate high blood pressure. Excessive heat and poor air quality are the most common environmental culprits related to heart problems. Hot weather can worsen ground-level ozone and air quality. In Puerto Rico, during the summer, Sahara dust particles make the situation even worse. According to NOAA’s website, high temperature, humidity and physical exertion can lead to heat disorder or heat stress.

Heat stress occurs when the body can no longer keep blood flowing to supply vital organs nor send blood to the skin to reduce body temperature. Signs of heat exhaustion include:

  • weakness
  • headache
  • breathlessness
  • nausea or vomiting
  • feeling faint or actually fainting.

It takes 30 minutes at least to cool the body down once a person suffers heat exhaustion. If not treated promptly, heat exhaustion can lead to serious heart problems. Preventing heat stress is simple. Here are a few suggestions I am currently following in order to enjoy exercise in the great outdoors without putting my overall health at risk.

  • Take rest breaks–I pause for 5 minutes intervals during my 4-mile jog
  • Limit heat exposure time—Perform outdoor activities early in morning or late afternoon hours
  • Check the air quality index — Avoid exercising when air quality is poor
  • Wear light and loose-fitting clothing
  • Drink plenty of water

Simple steps will allow you to stay healthy while you exercise!

About the author: Brenda Reyes Tomassini joined EPA in 2002. She is a public affairs specialist in the San Juan, Puerto Rico office and also handles community relations for the Caribbean Environmental Protection Division.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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El calor, los factores ambientales y los ejercicios al aire libre

Siempre me ha gustado hacer ejercicios al aire libre. Mientras hago ejercicios en el gimnasio la mayor parte del tiempo, durante los fines de semana me gusta ir de jogging por un camino a lo largo de las riberas del Río Bayamón. El bello paisaje y las aves son parte de lo que más me atrae de esa experiencia y es algo que aguardo con interés la semana entera. Sin embargo, un diagnosis reciente de hipertensión temporera me ha impedido hacer ejercicios por un par de semanas. Ahora que estoy reanudando mi rutina, me he tenido que conformar con limitar mis ejercicios a entornos cerrados y eliminar aquellos de alta intensidad. Al principio, estaba renuente a eliminar las carreras al aire libre de mi rutina deportiva. Por ende, reanudé mis carreras a un ritmo más lento y temprano en la mañana.

Aunque sabía de las precauciones a tomar durante actividades al aire libre para proteger mi piel de los rayos ultravioletas como usar una gorra de ala ancha, crema protectora y gafas de sol, no estaba consciente de que otros factores medioambientales pueden contribuir a enfermedades cardíacas y agravar la alta presión sanguínea. El exceso de calor y la pobre calidad del aire son los principales factores ambientales que contribuyen a los problemas del corazón. Las temperaturas elevadas pueden empeorar el ozono a nivel terrestre y la calidad del aire. En Puerto Rico, durante el verano, las partículas de polvo del Sahara pueden agravar la situación aún más. De acuerdo al sitio Web del Servicio Nacional Meteorológico de NOAA, la alta temperatura, la humedad y el esfuerzo físico pueden conducir a desórdenes de calor o insolación.

Los golpes de calor ocurren cuando el cuerpo ya no puede mantener el flujo de sangre necesario para suministrar a los órganos vitales ni enviar sangre a la piel para reducir la temperatura del cuerpo. Las señales de insolación o golpes de calor incluyen:

  • Debilidad
  • Dolores de cabeza
  • Falta de aire
  • Náuseas o vómitos
  • Sentirse mareado o desmayarse

Toma al menos unos 30 minutos refrescar el cuerpo una vez que una persona sufre de un golpe de calor. Si no se trata rápidamente, la insolación o golpe de calor puede conducir a serios problemas del corazón. El prevenir el estrés por el calor es sencillo. He aquí unas sugerencias que estoy siguiendo en la actualidad para disfrutar de ejercicios al aire libre sin poner en peligro mi salud en general.

  • Descanse con regularidad—Hago una pausa en intervalos de cinco minutos durante mi carrera de cuatro millas
  • Limite el tiempo de exposición al calor—Hago mis ejercicios al aire libre sea temprano en la mañana o tarde por la tarde
  • Consulte el índice de calidad de aire –Evito los ejercicios cuando la calidad de aire no es buena
  • Usar ropa holgada de colores claros
  • Beber mucho agua

¡Estos pasos sencillos le ayudarán a mantenerse saludable mientras hace ejercicios!

Sobre la autor: Brenda Reyes Tomassini se unió a la EPA en el 2002. Labora como especialista de relaciones públicas en la oficina de EPA en San Juan, Puerto Rico donde también maneja asuntos comunitarios para la División de Protección Ambiental del Caribe.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.