Outdoor recreation and cardiovascular health


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Exercise is good for you; we hear it all the time. It’s good for your heart, it’s good for your lungs, it’s good for your bones, and it’s good for your overall well-being. But why is it good for you, physiologically? 

I spoke with Dr. Chitra Peddada, medical director of cardiopulmonary rehabilitation at Penrose Hospital, about the cardiovascular aspects of outdoor recreation. According to Peddada, exercising is more than getting your heart rate up and sweating; it’s about what happens when you get your heart rate up.

Increased circulation, caused by a rise in blood pressure and pulse rate while you’re huffing and puffing along a trail, contributes to lower LDL (bad cholesterol), increased the levels of HDL (good cholesterol), and lower triglyceride levels. Increased blood flow also helps with joint health and recovery from joint injury.

Research shows a marked decrease in the rate of breast cancer in women who exercise regularly. And weight loss, a by-product of exercise, decreases the risk of diabetes. Cardiovascular activities boost your metabolism, and keep blood glucose levels in check. Peddada says as little as a three-pound weight loss will result in an “exponential” increase in diabetic metabolisms.

And the benefits continue. A recent study by the Cooper Clinic in Dallas determined that even moderate exercise can dramatically reduce cardiac mortality when compared to a sedentary lifestyle. Simply put, you don’t have to over do it or train like a triathlete to improve your health.

Of course, you can do cardio exercise indoors — in bad weather that’s not a bad idea — but there are more advantages to exercising outdoors. The vitamin D your body produces from exposure to natural sunshine can reduce the chances of developing diabetes, breast and colon cancer, and reduce muscle and bone pain. Vitamin D has been shown to reduce the risk of heart attack and can lower blood pressure, too.

I know that I’m likely preaching to the choir — many of you reading this are already hikers or cyclists, or engage in other outdoor activities. But you also probably know someone who you’ve been trying to get involved in some outdoor exercise. Share the benefits with them, and maybe save their life.

Bob Falcone is a firefighter, photographer, hiker, college instructor and small business owner who has lived in Colorado Springs for over 23 years. He is the board president of the Friends of Cheyenne Canon and a member of the El Paso County Parks Advisory Board. You can follow him on Twitter (@hikingbob), Facebook (Hiking Bob), or visit his website (Hikingbob.com). E-mail questions, comments, suggestions, etc to Bob: info@hikingbob.com

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