Exercise - Is There Anything It Can't Do? Part 2
This is the second post in a multi-part series on the health benefits of physical activity. This time, we will focus on how getting more physical activity can stave off heart disease, the leading cause of death for Americans. To learn the basics about physical activity, see the first post in this series.
What is heart disease?
Heart disease, sometimes called cardiovascular disease, is "a broad term used to describe a range of diseases that affect your heart....The various diseases that fall under the umbrella of heart disease include diseases of your blood vessels, such as coronary artery disease; heart rhythm problems (arrhythmias); heart infections; and heart defects you're born with (congenital heart defects)" (Mayo Clinic).
Risk factors for heart disease include both controllable and uncontrollable factors:
- "Older age
- Family history of heart disease
- Race (African Americans, American Indians, and Mexican Americans are more likely to have heart disease than Caucasians)
- High LDL, or "bad" cholesterol and low HDL, or "good" cholesterol
- Uncontrolled hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Physical inactivity
- Uncontrolled diabetes
- High C-reactive protein
- Uncontrolled stress and anger" (WebMD)
You can calculate your risk for heart disease on the Mayo Clinic's website.
There is good news: you can make changes to your controllable behaviors (e.g., physical inactivity, smoking) that will significantly reduce your risk for heart disease.
Physical Activity for Prevention
Physical activity helps you control your weight and stress "and can reduce your chances of developing other conditions that may put a strain on your heart, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes" (Mayo Clinic). For those who have already been diagnosed with heart disease, exercise can help reduce the time you are out of work or your normal activities and improve your quality of life, improving self-confidence, lowering stress, and reducing anxiety.
Regular exercise can affect heart disease risk factors in the following ways:
- "Increase in exercise tolerance
- Reduction in body weight
- Reduction in blood pressure
- Reduction in bad (LDL and total) cholesterol
- Increase in good (HDL) cholesterol
- Increase in insulin sensitivity" (Myers)
Aerobic exercise is best for preventing heart disease. To increase your aerobic exercise, strive to walk 10,000 steps per day. This can be done throughout the day, and includes walking around the grocery store, walking from a parking space, and, of course, walking on a treadmill. Though your health would greatly improve and your risk for heart disease would go down by simply trying to hit the 10,000 steps/day mark, it would be even better to include a dedicated workout session 3-5 days per week.
One way to motivate yourself to add more physical activity is to attend one or more group fitness classes in a week. There are many, many types of group fitness classes that allow you to have fun, be social, and get fit all at the same time. Gyms, health clubs, and rec centers often have a variety of group fitness options, such as step aerobics, dance classes, indoor cycling, boxing, and countless others. Talk to the class instructor before class begins to get the lay of the land, know what equipment to pick up, and any tips or tricks. Instructors love to engage with participants, so don't hesitate to ask questions!
The next post in this series will discuss the benefits of being physically active for those who are at risk for stroke. If you have a question about preventing heart disease, exercising with heart disease, or group fitness, please leave it in the comments.
Get My Easy Exercise Planner
When you're busy, it takes a little more planning to be successful. This planner will help you find precious spare time to move.