Heart Health

By Leigh Anne Richards


February is designated as heart health month. What an appropriate time to write an article about heart health and exercise. Inactivity is one of the major risk factors for heart disease. However, exercise can improve heart health and in some cases reverse some heart disease risk factors. You heart is a muscle and like all muscles it becomes stronger as a result of exercise; therefore it can pump more blood through the body with every beat and can continue to work at maximum levels, if needed, with less strain. The resting heart rate is slower for those who exercise because less effort is needed to pump blood.

A person that exercises often and vigorously has the lowest risk of heart disease, but any amount of exercise is beneficial. Studies consistently find that light to moderate exercise is beneficial for people with existing heart disease. People who do not exercise are almost twice as likely to get heart disease as people who are active. Note, however, that anyone with heart disease or cardiac risk factors should seek medical advice before starting an exercise program.

Exercise has a number of benefits on the heart and circulation. The benefits include improving cholesterol and fat levels, reducing inflammation in the arteries, helping with weight loss and helping to keep blood vessels flexible and open. Studies continue to show that physical activity and avoiding high fat foods are two of the most successful ways of reaching and maintaining heart healthy levels of fitness and a healthy weight.

The American Heart Association recommends that individuals perform moderately- intense exercise for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week. This recommendation is also supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American College of Sports Medicine. People who maintain an active lifestyle have a 45% lower risk of developing heart disease than sedentary people. Experts have been attempting to define how much exercise is needed to produce heart benefits. Beneficial changes in cholesterol and lipid levels, including lower LDL (bad cholesterol) levels occur when people performed low to moderate –or high intensity exercise such as walking of jogging 12 miles in a week. However, more intense exercise is needed to see significant changes in increasing the HDL (good cholesterol). An example of this kind of exercise program would be jogging about 20 miles a week or any activity that is comparable.

Some studies even suggest that for the greatest heart protection, it is not the duration of a single exercise session that counts but the total weekly amount of energy expended. Therefore, it is recommended 150 minutes a week.

Resistance (strength or weight) training has also been associated with heart protection. It may offer a complimentary benefit to aerobic activity. If you have heart disease, check with your doctor before doing resistance training. You can use weights, resistance bands, or even your own body weight. Do it 2-3 times a week and let your muscles recover for a day in between sessions.

What about people that are high risk individuals? Of course, one should consult their doctor before ever undertaking an exercise program. Patients with known heart disease can exercise safely as long as they are evaluated beforehand. Sometimes they need to begin their workout under medical supervision. At risk individuals should be aware of any symptoms warning of harmful complications while they are exercising.


Some people believe that men over 45 and women over 55 whether or not they are at risk for heart disease should have a complete physical exam before starting or intensifying an exercise program. The following is a questionnaire for people over 40 to help determine whether they require such an exam:

• Has any doctor previously recommended medically supervised activity because of a heart condition?

• Does physical activity bring on chest pain?

• Has chest pain occurred during the previous month?

• Do you faint or fall over from dizziness?

• Does bone or joint pain intensify after exercise?

• Has medication been prescribed for high blood pressure or heart problems?

• Are you aware of, or has the doctor suggested any physical reason for not exercising without medical supervision?


Those who answer yes to any of the above questions should have a complete medical exam before developing an exercise program.

Always listen to warning signs when you are exercising. 40% of young men who die suddenly during a workout have previously experienced and ignored warning signs of heart disease. In addition to avoiding risky activities, the best preventive tactic is to listen to the body and seek medical help at the first sign of symptoms or following exercise.

Exercise is a great prescription for keeping heart disease away. Celebrate Heart health this month!
Health Guide The New York Times, WebMD- Fitness and Exercise

Leigh Anne Richards, MEd, Certified Personal Trainer, Group Exercise Instructor, General Manager- MetroFitness. For any questions or comments, contact Leigh Anne at

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