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Best ways to get a good cardio workout in Ottawa during winter

On the Rideau Canal. Skating is a great way to get a cardio workout. (Photo by Matthew Fournier via Unsplash)

Next month is Heart Month, and there is no better way to celebrate your heart than to ensure it’s as healthy as possible.

Heart disease is a leading cause of death in Canada, says Ottawa doctor Jennifer Reed, but it’s possible to prevent with a little work.

“Regular exercise is a proven strategy to prevent heart disease, lowering the risk of first or subsequent cardiovascular events,” says Reed, director of the Exercise Physiology and Cardiovascular Health Lab at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute. She’s currently working on a study to find better treatments for a serious condition called atrial fibrillation.

“Regular exercise also lowers one’s risk of (becoming) overweight (or obese), diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and mental health issues – all known risk factors for heart disease.”

With that, here’s some ways you can get more cardio exercise in Ottawa, with tips from Reed.

What kind of cardio should you do?

The perfect workout is different for everybody, Reed says. It’s recommended you pick an activity you enjoy and will be able to do long-term. For cardiovascular health, the best type of exercise is aerobic, for example a brisk walk or run along the Rideau Canal. Your body adapts to your lifestyle and if you drive your heart, the exercise will become easier to do over time.

The current Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week, which can be achieved through snaps of exercise as short as 10 minutes.

The guidelines also note that, for best fitness outcomes, the weekly cardio should be in addition to strength training that touches on major muscle groups, at least twice per week.

How can you get this cardio exercise?

In wintertime, when it’s freezing out and snow seems to never end, it’s certainly a challenge to get your cardio in. But there’s plenty of options available to you…

  • Skating is a fantastically effective cardio workout. And, in a city blessed with the Rideau Canal and dozens of local rinks, there’s no shortage of ways to work that into your routine…
  • Check out Gatineau Park and its many trails for hiking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing…
  • Or see more places to go cross-country skiing here…
  • Ottawa has tons of gyms and there’s likely one near you. Attending an exercise class will likely increase the effort you put into a workout, Reed suggested. Do it with a friend, and you’re golden. If your schedule requires it, you can find gyms that are open in Ottawa 24 hours here…
  • It’s easy to exercise from home – all you need is an exercise mat and some helpful tips from any number of online resources.
  • Join a recreational running club. Here’s a list of some in Ottawa…
  • If you’re busy at work, try having a short walk during lunch time. Even for only 10 minutes, the benefits of getting cold, fresh air will help you be more productive afterwards. And natural light is another plus!
  • Tobogganing is an Ottawa pastime and a sure way to get active and have fun doing it. We have hill locations listed on our toboggan guide…

While you shouldn’t feel guilty if you had to skip a session or two, it’s recommended you make it a regular part of your routine because consistency is key. One great way to keep yourself motivated is to set realistic, attainable goals. Consistently reaching new heights with each goal will motivate you to continue, Reed says.

Getting active is just one part of the puzzle of a healthy lifestyle – other important considerations include balanced home-cooked meals, moderation in alcohol consumption and plenty of sleep and managed stress levels.

Ottawa study on heart disease looking for patients

Reed is currently working on a novel study at the Ottawa Heart Institute on atrial fibrillation (AF), a heart disorder that causes a fast, irregular heart rate. The condition affects about 350,000 Canadians and anyone over 40 has a 26 per cent chance of developing it.

Curiously, “exercise is not currently prescribed for atrial fibrillation, but it is for other forms of heart disease,” Reed says. “My research program is exploring if exercise, and what kind of exercise, can be used to improve the symptoms and quality of life of people living with atrial fibrillation.”

“People with atrial fibrillation are searching for better treatment options, and I hope my research program will benefit these patients,” Reed says.

Her team recently published another study in Canadian Journal of Cardiology, which showed cardiac rehabilitation improved quality of life for people with AF, but the impact was lesser than for people without AF.

“We are a busy group, with three postdoctoral research fellows, two PhD students, two clinical research coordinators and several dedicated undergraduate students who help to keep our research studies and lab running in tip-top shape,” Reed says. You can find team bios on the Heart Institute’s website.

Reed’s study is looking for people with AF to help with their research. To find out more about the study and see if you’re eligible to participate, contact the clinical research coordinator at mailto:mmistura@ottawaheart.ca or via 613-696-7000 Ext. 15944.

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Devyn Barrie

Devyn Barrie is the publisher and editor of OttawaStart.com. He currently studies math and physics at the University of Ottawa, and holds a diploma in journalism from Algonquin College.