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Putting your heart into exercise

Being active can boost pleasure levels - Hauer

Nathan VanderKlippe
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Aug 26/02) - Looking to trim a little off the girth? It's a good idea, but before you begin your fitness regime, consider that big red pump beneath your rib cage.

(The heart is) "the most important muscle in your body," said Body Works co-owner Francis Chang. "If that's not healthy, nothing else you do will improve."

The good part is that getting your heart ship-shape isn't terribly difficult. Depending on who you talk to, it requires 20 minutes of moderate exercise three times a week, or 30 minutes every day or some figure in between.

The key word is "moderate." What you want to do is get some cardio-vascular activity -- in other words, make your heart work a little harder than it does when you're staring at a screen.

That can be as simple as walking to work or dusting for a bit. Or it can be hiking, riding your bike, rollerblading. It's part of developing an "active lifestyle," the kind of thing that outdoors enthusiasts don't have to worry about, but that the indoor-friendly among us should be a little worried about.

After all, it's a simple way to keep the heart chugging just a little bit longer, and a little bit better. And it can ward off really nasty diseases like cancer and diabetes.

"It has been shown that it can also decrease all causes of mortality," said Trina Hauer, program manager of the Cardiac Wellness Institute of Calgary.

Exercising helps build up triglycerides and high-density lipo-protein cholesterol -- the good cholesterol. Those two substances help to break down and dissolve the bad cholesterol, the one that builds up in arteries -- the low-density cholesterol.

But don't just worry about your body. Think about your head, too. Being active can boost pleasure levels, said Hauer.

"It has been shown to decrease anxiety and depression," she said. That's because exercise can release endorphins, which can enhance feelings of well-being.

And good things breed more good things, said Chang.

"Normally once you get active and maintain it for any length of time your mindset starts to change," he said. You think, 'if I'm doing all this work, why don't I cut back on McDonald's.'"

And then, he said, one day you look at the mirror and "'geez, I've got a two-pack.'"