Exercise is Medicine: Heart Disease

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High resolution man drawing chart heartbeatThere is a growing trend that exercise is medicine. This is particularly true with cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular disease refers to a group of conditions that affects the functioning of the heart and blood vessels.

This includes:

  • Arrhythmias
  • Angina
  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Myocardial infarction (heart attack)
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries)

Unfortunately, most of society experiences at least one of these conditions that fall under the umbrella of cardiovascular disease. Even more concerning, there are a number of risk factors that increase your risk of developing cardiovascular disease that are even more widely spread

Risk Factors

A risk factor is any characteristic or exposure that increases the likelihood of developing a disease or injury. Modifiable risk factors can be changed, typically through lifestyle, however non-modifiable risk factors can’t be altered.

Modifiable Risk Factors

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Excess body weight
  • Smoking
  • Stress
  • Physical inactivity
  • Excessive alcohol consumption

Non-modifiable Risk Factors

  • Age
  • Sex
  • Family history
  • Ethnicity

The Good News

Now that we’ve covered all the doom and gloom, time for the good news! Exercise can help reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease or help you manage it! Exercise can help indirectly by also reducing high blood pressure, high cholesterol, your risk of type 2 diabetes, and it can help you maintain a healthy body weight.

Studies have shown patients that are newly diagnosed with heart disease and participate in an exercise program report an earlier return to work, improvements in quality of life, lower stress and anxiety, and more self-confidence. In fact, it’s been found that death rate is reduced by 20-25% for heart attack patients that engage in regular exercise.

The Dose

Medication is always prescribed very specifically and exercise can be considered the same way. The current consensus is that at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity, most days of the week, will help you experience all the benefits listed above. Moderate physical activity is equivalent to a brisk walking pace – imagine you are late and power walking to an appointment. I bet you’re thinking “how on earth will I fit in 30 minutes every day?” Even better news? This 30 minute prescription can be cumulative throughout the day, if each session is approximately 10 minutes. For example, you could do a 10 minute walk at your morning and afternoon coffee breaks and lunch break. This might even be a better approach as it can reduce your daily sedentary time.

The most important thing about starting to make a lifestyle change is to not go from 0 to 100. If you have never done any regular physical activity or exercise, start small. Try adding in a few 5 minute walking breaks throughout your day and build from there. This will help you fit it into your life and stick with it. Making a huge change all at once can leave you feeling overwhelmed and you will likely stop making the change.

Visit the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s website to learn more about heart disease. Did you enjoy this post? Download the printer friendly pdf.

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