Aug. 7, 2007 -- This year an estimated 1.2 million Americans will have a new or recurrent coronary attack. Heart disease is the No. 1 killer in the United States.
In fact, one in three Americans suffers from heart disease. Those sobering statistics become even more relevant when as many as a third of those people will have another heart attack in six years.
Those are some of the reasons Dr. Mehmet Oz and exercise physiologist Bob Greene teamed up with GlaxoSmithKline to develop the "Heartfelt for Life" training program.
The free DVD was designed specifically for people who have had heart attacks. It includes exercises to help improve health.
The Importance of Exercise
Oz said eating well can prevent a heart attack, but exercise is a crucial part of the equation. Exercise actually is the most important predictor of a person's life span, according to Oz.
"We spend lots of time talking about food and diet, but we forget exercise is equally important," Oz said.
He suggests walking 30 minutes for six days a week or three hours a week in general in order to reduce the risk of heart attacks.
Oz said exercise lowers cholesterol and blood pressure, which in turn reduces heart attack risk by 35 percent.
The goal is to get your good cholesterol, HDL, above 50, he said. Bad cholesterol, LDL, should be lower than 100, and triglycerides should be below 150, he added.
In order to reach those numbers, the exercise regimen must include cardiovascular exercise, meaning you have to sweat, Oz said.
A good way to judge health is to see if you can walk a quarter of a mile in 20 minutes, Oz said. If a person can't do that, a 30 percent chance exists that he or she will be dead in two years, he said.
The Warning Signs
Several warning signs exists when a person is about to have a heart attack. But the signs may be different for men and women.
"Look for abnormal pains that aren't the kinds that you usually get," Oz said. Examples include pains in the stomach, he added.
"Also, shortness of breath is a very big sign that people often ignore," Oz said. "It's a very important one for us, because it shows that the heart is not beating that strongly. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting and back or jaw pain."
However, the clues of an impending heart attack may not always be there.
"Many folks never have any pain before they have a heart attack, which is why these checkups are important," Oz said.
He said the history may play a role in why some people haven't gotten the message of how important exercise is following a heart attack.
"Most of the century, the treatment of a heart attack was bed rest," he said. "There's this perception among people who have had one that they shouldn't make any sudden moves. People are paralyzed with fear after a heart attack, and too often we just say, 'Go home. Eat better and exercise.' And that's it."
Cardiac surgery is one of the most traumatic surgeries, and it's important to have physical activity after trauma, Oz said.
"People who don't exercise come back to the doctor six weeks later and their muscle wasting has progressed so much that it'll take them years to get back to where they were before the surgery."
Greene said the type of heart attack determines how soon a person can resume exercise and suggests talking to a physician.
"Once you get over that initial fear, people who have had heart attacks are the most highly motivated," he said. "You'll of course want to pick something you enjoy so that you'll stick with it. But walking is easy to do and it's a great way to spend time with some loved ones. So with your doctor's approval, it's the simplest thing to start. Your goal is to get 30 minutes of physical activity each day, which can be broken up into three 10-minute intervals."
Greene gives several tips on beginning an exercise program.
How fast should I be walking?
You want to stay in the moderate zone. So if one is resting and 10 is the most intense exertion, you want to stay between four and six. Some people start with a five-minute warm-up, five minutes at moderate intensity and five minutes of a cool down. Then they can work their way up to 30 minutes total. Walking actually benefits women even more than men. It lowers blood pressure and helps cholesterol management.
How important is strength training?
With a heart attack, or any damage, you have the tendency to let yourself get frail. Strength training corrects frailty and muscle wasting. Basically, cardio works your heart, and strength training work the body around the heart. That way, the rest of your body doesn't put undo strain on the heart.
You need to incorporate strength training two or the times a week with these exercises, and with each exercise you'll do one set of eight to 10 each, building up slowly.
You exhale on exertion. So think of those weight lifters you see at the gym grunting and holding their breath with their veins bulging. That's not what you want. They're driving their blood pressure up, which could be dangerous. So when you're making an effort, that's when you exhale, and as you bring the weight back to starting position, you inhale.
Your Role in Your Health
Oz expressed hope about the country's health. He said the United States still has a lot of heart attacks, but fewer deaths.
"We're becoming a nation of survivors," Oz said. "What American medicine has done is given Americans a second chance. But we're not curing the problem, we're giving you another chance to fix it."
Patients have just as much control over their survival as their doctors, he added.
In particular, it's important that women pay attention to their heart health.
"Women tend to focus on diet rather than exercise," Oz said. "They know how to eat healthy, and they tend to select that option over the exercise one. I mean think about it, diet commercials are marketed to women, and exercise equipment is more marketed to men. But that said, once women get the message about exercise, they're more likely to pass it on to the men in their lives.