Physical Activity: a Key to Heart Diseases Prevention

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. About 600,000 people die yearly from heart disease. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to prevent or help reverse heart disease. Increasing your level of physical activity is one of the most beneficial.

Key takeaways:
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    Increasing your physical activity level is one of the best ways to improve your heart health.
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    Physical activity can decrease your chances of developing heart disease or improve your heart function if you already have it.
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    Even small increases can make an impact. The idea is to move more and sit less.
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    Talk to your doctor before beginning a new exercise, especially if it is more vigorous than you are used to or if you have any physical limitations.

Regular physical activity is one of the best treatments for heart disease. It can even help lower your risk of developing heart disease in the first place.

Regular exercise can help in many ways, including:

  • lowering your cholesterol
  • lowering your blood pressure
  • reducing your risk of developing coronary artery disease (plaque build-up on the blood vessels in your heart)

It doesn't need to be long hours in the gym. Just moving more helps. The more active you are, the more you will reap the benefits.

Dangers of a sedentary lifestyle

A sedentary lifestyle leads to a multitude of health problems. If you sit still most of the time, you have a higher risk of developing health problems such as high blood pressure, certain cancers, diabetes, and heart disease. You have an increased risk of death from any disease when you are sedentary.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), people who do not get enough exercise have a 20% to 30% increased risk of death.

Benefits of physical activity

On the other hand, even just a little increase in your activity level can increase your level of health. Even people with disabilities and chronic health conditions can benefit from regular physical activity. Regular physical activity can relieve stress and tension, improve your energy level, prevent loss of bone density, and help you remain independent for longer.

There are even more benefits when it comes to your heart. Regular exercise and increasing your activity level can lower many heart disease risk factors by increasing your "good" HDL cholesterol levels and lowering your "bad" LDL cholesterol levels, reducing high blood pressure, lowering your risk of blood clots, and improving your circulation.

Doctors recommend that all people regularly engage in some form of physical activity, even those previously treated with bed rest, such as deep vein thrombosis.

You don't need to join a gym or start jogging every day. Even little increases in activity level can affect your heart health.

How much physical activity do I need?

Anything that gets the body moving and burning calories are considered physical activity. Anything that decreases the time you spend sitting can increase your heart health.

Regular moderate-intensity aerobic activity is best for your heart. Moderate-intensity exercises will increase your heart rate and breathing rate. However, you should still be able to carry on a conversation. Examples of moderate-intensity activities include:

  • a bike ride slower than 10 miles per hour
  • cleaning the house
  • tennis (doubles)
  • water aerobics
  • a brisk walk
  • gardening
  • dancing
  • jogging

Just as working your muscles with weights or gym machines increases the strength of your muscles and improves your stamina for lifting those weights, moderate-intensity aerobic activities increase your heart and breathing rate, making your heart work harder, and improving the heart muscle’s strength and endurance. Keeping your heart strong and healthy will help to prevent plaque build-up that causes coronary artery disease and increasing blood flow throughout your body brings more oxygen and nutrients to the cells and tissues, decreasing your chances of developing chronic diseases.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every week, preferably spread out over the week, even for people with chronic conditions. So exercising for 30 minutes five days a week is a good starting goal. If you can't exercise for 30 minutes, breaking it up into 10-minute segments three times a day works just as well.

If you prefer vigorous exercise, you can exercise less often. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends 75 minutes of vigorous activity over a week. Three days a week, with a rest day in between, is a good recommendation for vigorous exercise.

Consider adding strength and balance exercises each day as well. Including some balance training and stretching into each day will help towards your heart health goals, reduce your fall risk, and keep you independent for longer.

If you cannot walk, you can still move your arms more or find other ways to move. Every bit of movement helps. The more you move, the more health benefits you will reap.

Children and teenagers should get at least one hour of exercise every day. They should also engage in vigorous-intensity activity at least three days every week.

Vigorous activities will increase your body temperature and make you sweat. You cannot carry on a conversation without getting short of breath. Examples include hiking with a heavy backpack, running, and jumping rope.

You will receive the best benefits by including a combination of aerobic, strength, balance, and stretching exercises throughout the week.

Try to increase the time you spend sitting by purposely moving more. Park further from the store. Walk around your house or office while you talk on the phone. Take the stairs instead of the elevator.

How much exercise is too much?

Talk to your doctor about which exercises you can safely do and how much they recommend.

While doing moderate-intensity exercise, you should be able to carry on a conversation even though your breathing will be faster. In vigorous-intensity exercise, you will have a more difficult time talking. If you can only gasp a few words at a time, you are exercising too hard.

If you have any of these symptoms, stop exercising immediately.

  • lightheadedness or dizziness
  • chest discomfort
  • nausea

If the symptoms do not go away after a few minutes of rest, call 9-1-1.

Tell your doctor about any unusual "spells" you have while exercising.

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