Friday, 14 February 2014 12:21

Heart Health

By James Markwica, MS PT | Families Today
Heart Health
With the No. 1 cause of death among women and men in the United States being cardiovascular diseases and No. 3 being stroke, heart health among Americans is atop the most critical threats today. The good news is that you can take simple steps that may exponentially reduce your risk. Prevention is obviously the best road to travel. Anyone, female or male, can lower chances of developing cardiac disease with just 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity. This is as easy as brisk walking and can minimize the development of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity and diabetes—each of which can lead to heart disease. In the past, it was believed that if you had developed most forms of heart disease, bed-rest and avoidance of physical exertion were recommended. But today this is known to be untrue. For most people, an exercise program will improve not only physical performance of normal daily task, but may also improve cardiac symptoms and quality of life. Reduction of physical activity creates atrophy of muscles in the arms, legs and trunk, potentially further worsening the symptom of fatigue. It doesn’t take very long before the accomplishment of simple activities of daily living become too difficult to perform. Inactivity also hinders the strength and responsiveness of arteries and veins throughout the body, which in turn increases the load on the heart to distribute blood throughout the body. With exercise training, almost anyone can improve the strength of the heart, along with the vessels and muscles of the trunk and extremities while improving perfusion and distribution of oxygen in the body and reducing shortness of breath. People with mild to moderate heart failure symptoms, among other cardiac diseases, will typically benefit from normal physical training as directed by a physician. However, those who experience sudden worsening of cardiac symptoms, or who possess inflammation or infection in the heart, should await medical clearance. It is important to first consult with your doctor to identify if you are a good candidate for physical activity and possibly identify what, if any, limitations you may have in regards to safe activity and exercise. Proper exercise training programs offered to both women and men demonstrating cardiac failure symptoms consist of a few characteristics. These characteristics will ideally increase in supervision as the person’s symptoms are greater in severity as determined by one’s doctor: • Performed in a monitored (varies) setting ranging from a hospital or outpatient setting to a gym or wellness center. • Performed in 3-5 sessions per week from 6 weeks to 4-6 months. • Includes endurance training and strength training. • Progresses the individual to slowly work up to 40-70 percent exertion or more if warranted. • Possible incorporation of aerobic, dance or spin classes. Often times an exercise performance test, in addition to other tests, may be performed to determine your exercise capacity. Upon completion of the program, your doctor, therapist or training team will typically furnish you with a home training regime and recommendations for continuation on your own at home or in the gym. If you are unable to attend a formal supervised exercise training program due to location, transportation or expense, a home based program is an option. Although these particular programs are less effective and safe, they are better than doing nothing at all. Some helpful hints that will ensure your optimal gains from either type program are: • Stick to the plan as structured by your doctor including medications, regular testing and exercise training. • Keep all scheduled appointments including office visits and blood draws. • Set realistic goals and change your life-style if you must (ie. stop smoking, maintain a normal weight, etc.) After your program has ended, be sure to remain active and avoid all old habits that impact your cardiac health negatively. Most women and men can lead active lives once their condition is under control. Once you are on your own, be sure to: • Avoid heavy tasks that involve extreme exertion • Take breaks when experiencing any chest pain, weakness, tiredness, shortness of breath, dizziness, pressure anywhere from your jaw to your arm, nausea or vomiting. • If you experience any of these mentioned symptoms that don’t go away with rest, call your doctor! Finally, be sure to balance your activity with rest periods. Learn to pace yourself by planning ahead, conserve your energy and take breaks during the day when needed. Try to simplify your life by setting daily goals and follow through with them. Be sure that at least one of the daily goals involves physical activity. Modify your outdoor tasks in times of extreme temperature like we have now as both hot and cold weather will increase the stress on your heart. If you need help finding the proper setting for your recovery or prevention while suffering from any level of cardiac complication, talk to your doctor. They will be able to best assess your current functional level and recommend a facility to meet your needs. It is important to first get an accurate diagnosis for the cause of your cardiac stress, as the specific exercises recommended will depend on the cause. James Markwica, MS PT is a New York State Licensed Physical Therapist at LaMarco Physical Therapy, 417 Geyser Road in Ballston Spa and 30 Gick Road in Saratoga Springs. For questions of follow-up, contact James at (518) 587-3256 or online at
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