How does exercise help my heart?
Matthew Wisehart is an exercise physiologist on staff at Banner Thunderbird Medical Center.
Question: How does exercise contribute to the prevention or treatment of heart disease? What if heart disease is the result of heredity?
Answer: Exercise is a vital and tremendously beneficial component in living a healthy and balanced life. Regular physical activity not only positively impacts the prevention and treatment of heart disease, but also decreases the risk of peripheral vascular disease, stroke, impotency, diabetes, obesity, certain cancers, and a variety of other conditions. While medications may be effective in treating individual factors contributing to heart disease, exercise has the ability to address most, if not all, of these factors.
Even if exercise cannot prevent heart disease from genetic influences, it can decrease the severity of the disease by reducing plaque buildup, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, weight gain, and stress, among others issues.
Exercise can be thought of as a daily check-in with the heart. People are more likely to notice symptoms during exercise than at rest, and detecting a heart problem early on can lead to better outcomes. Additionally, regular exercise may also improve recovery time in those hospitalized due to heart disease.
At a bare minimum, people should strive for 30 minutes of physical activity three days a week. Exercise doesn’t have to be strenuous; it can be achieved by making simple changes, such as parking the car at the end of a parking lot, parking at the top of a parking structure, or using the stairs rather than elevator. It’s important to realize that exercise shouldn’t be considered in an “all or nothing” manner. Every little bit counts! Even if you don’t have time to perform your full workout on any given day, don’t throw in the towel. Instead, do what you can do, and get back to your normal routine the next day.
Always consult your doctor before beginning any new exercise regimen.
Reviewed March 2010