Getting Active Outdoors for Your Heart Health

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Spending more time outdoors is always something to look forward to with the arrival of the warmer months. And while simply getting some fresh air and safely soaking up some vitamin D does wonders, there's also a benefit to getting active for your heart health in the great outdoors.

As the American Heart Association celebrates 100 years of scientific discovery and innovation this June, we asked Shelley Irwin, host of The Shelley Irwin Show on WGVU Public Media, why she's so passionate about the cause.

Irwin—who's an avid swimmer, runner and cyclist—has been involved with AHA's work for the last 15 years as a volunteer and heart health advocate, spreading the word any chance she gets.

"I was invited to attend a Go Red for Women event and was blown away by the women in the room who were gathered to discuss how best to share their time, talents and treasures for the Association," Irwin said of her first introduction to AHA.

Having had family members impacted by heart health issues in the past, in addition to formerly having a career as a physical therapist in a rehabilitative setting, Irwin takes the subject and its effect on her own health seriously.

"I come from a family that has experienced heart and stroke challenges, losing grandparents to the disease," Irwin shared. "As genetics can't be changed, I take control of what I can do, with good advice from AHA that cardiovascular exercise is not only fun, but good for the heart in a preventive way."

Irwin has several marathons under her belt, including this year's Los Angeles Marathon. However, it's the triathlons that have stolen her heart.

"Of course, training includes outdoor work, and yes, in Michigan, all stages of weather can be experienced," she said. "I appreciate the opportunity to include outdoor exercise in my daily schedule and West Michigan provides not only a variety of trails, parks and outdoor venues, but I can race a 5k, 10k, half marathon or triathlon somewhere in Michigan every weekend."

In addition to aerobic exercise helping with heart health, stress relief and mental happiness, Irwin finds that outdoor activity specifically allows for exciting adventures in interesting places.

"I've been able to travel the world doing races with friends, including Iceland, Spain, Jamaica and Ireland," Irwin said. "I challenged myself to qualify for the USA WORLD competition in Triathlon and Duathlon; Sweden and Switzerland were highlights of achieving that goal."

Irwin emphasized that with the proper gear and mindset, outdoor physical activity can be immensely enjoyable. One of her favorite motivational quotes is, "Run while you can," a reminder of what a privilege it is to be able to move your body in the present.

Irwin's advice to others looking to feel better physically, mentally and socially? Get moving. It's never too late to start. AHA recommends getting at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity (or a combination of both), preferably spread throughout the week.

"Establish a goal, whether it's weight loss, your first 5k, or just getting active with your family," she advised. "AHA has a plethora of resources to get active, starting with just 10 minutes. Document your big dream, outline your steps to get there, share with your friends for accountability—and begin! You won't look back."

And yes, Irwin insists that "runner's high" does, in fact, exist.

Places you can find outdoor activities this summer:

The American Heart Association is now the nation's oldest and largest voluntary organization dedicated to fighting heart disease and stroke. With heart disease being the top killer worldwide, and stroke ranking second globally, AHA continues their work in advancing research and science, leading to significant breakthroughs. Learn more at: heart.org/centennial

Written by Sarah Suydam, Managing Editor of West Michigan Woman.

This article originally appeared in the Jun/Jul '24 issue of West Michigan Woman.

Photo Courtesy of Stellafly. 



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