Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide. Low levels of physical activity on a consistent basis are now recognised as a major contributor to poor cardiovascular health. Inactive people are nearly twice as likely as physically active people to develop heart disease.
Regular exercise and physical activity are associated with remarkable widespread health benefits and a significantly lower CVD risk. Studies show that regular exercise helps reduce the risk of coronary heart disease as much as 21% for men and 29% for women.
Your heart is a muscle, it gets stronger and healthier with exercise and becomes more efficient at pumping blood throughout the body. Exercise also improves the muscles’ ability to draw oxygen from the circulating blood, reducing the need for the heart to work harder to pump more blood to the muscles.
Your exercise routine should include aerobic exercise (“cardio”) like running, jogging, skipping, cycling, strength training using weights or resistance bands or your own body weight and stretching to improve flexibility and recovery after exercise, reducing the risk of injury.
How does exercise improve heart health?
- Exercise lowers blood pressure. High blood pressure is a significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease (CVD). A healthy heart pumps more blood with each beat, reducing stress on the heart and surrounding arteries and thus lowering blood pressure. Cardiovascular exercise may help lower your blood pressure if you have high blood pressure. If you don’t have high blood pressure, exercise can help keep it from rising as you get older.
- Regular cardiovascular exercise improves blood flow in the small vessels surrounding the heart, which can become clogged with fatty deposits over time. Improved circulation in these small blood vessels may help to prevent heart attacks.
- When combined with a healthy diet, exercise is essential for weight control. Being overweight puts strain on the heart and increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.
- Exercise has been linked to cholesterol improvements, including an increase in the amount of healthy HDL cholesterol and a decrease in bad LDL cholesterol.
- Regular exercise helps maintain healthy blood sugar levels, lowering the risk of pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes. Exercise, in fact, can reduce the risk of developing diabetes by more than half by allowing the muscles to better process glycogen.
- Exercise reduces the incidence of heart arrhythmia like atrial fibrillation (AFib) a common heart problem with 5 times the risk of stroke caused by blood clot.
- Exercise promotes positive physiological changes, such as allowing the arteries of the heart to dilate more easily. It also reduces the sensitivity of your sympathetic nervous system (which regulates your heart rate and blood pressure).
- According to the American Heart Association regular exercise can help promote other heart healthy habits too, helping to maintain a healthy weight, making better nutrition choices, quitting smoking, decreasing stress and improving your mood.
The benefits of exercise are truly astonishing. Exercise can make you look and feel great, improve your current state of health and prevent life threatening conditions developing in the future. It’s never too late to start exercising. You can increase your physical activity at any age and almost any fitness level. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week which equates to 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. If you are new to exercise always consult with your doctor first.
“If exercise was a pill, it would be the most prescribed drug on the planet!”