Heart Disease: How To Reduce The Risk

What You Should Know About Becoming More Active

The American Heart Association considers inactivity to be as much of a risk factor for coronary heart disease (CHD) as high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, or cigarette smoking. Increased activity reduces the risk of CHD and can help to reduce other risk factors for CHD. Besides, it can be fun!

  • How does being more active lower your risk for heart disease?
  • Are you active enough?
  • Which types of activities are best?
  • Exercising safely

How Does Being More Active Lower Your Risk For Heart Disease?

When you become more active, you reduce your risk for CHD in several ways. Physical activity:

  • Increases the proportion of HDL cholesterol (the good kind of cholesterol) in your blood and reduces levels of triglycerides, another type of blood fat that can clog arteries and promote CHD
  • Boosts the body’s ability to clear away clots in the blood vessels
  • Improves circulation and makes the heart a stronger and more efficient pump
  • Can help prevent the development of diabetes
  • Promotes weight loss and weight control even more than dieting
  • Helps relieve stress
  • Provides an alternative to harmful addictions such as nicotine and alcohol use

Are You Active Enough?

Although deliberate forms of exercise such as walking, jogging, or swimming are great, smaller periods of less intense physical activity also help reduce your risk for heart disease. The more physically active you are, the better off you’ll be.

Experts now recommend that all adults accumulate at least 30 minutes or more of moderate-intensity physical activity on most, preferably all, days of the week. This doesn’t mean, however, that you need to jog or swim 30 minutes a day. You also benefit from several shorter periods of physical activity throughout the day.

For example, if you walk 10 minutes around the mall while your shopping for clothes, take a 10-minute walk during your coffee break, and take a 10-minute walk around the block after supper (if you live in a safe neighborhood), this counts as your 30 minutes of physical activity. Even activities like gardening or cleaning can add up if done vigorously enough.

The bottom line: be more active throughout the day in whatever way you can.

Which Types Of Activities Are Best?

The best activities for your heart are those that use the large muscles of your body, particularly those in your legs, making them demand more oxygen to do their work. Seek out activities that involve repetitive motion and raise your heart rate for an extended period of time. Examples of such activities include:

  • Walking
  • Running
  • Rowing
  • Bicycling
  • Swimming
  • Skating
  • Cross-country skiing

When your muscles demand more oxygen, you breathe faster to bring oxygen into your lungs, and your heart beats faster to deliver the oxygen to your muscles, giving your whole system a tune-up and making your heart a stronger and more efficient pump.

How-To Information:

Exercise does not always have to include a sweaty workout. You can benefit by simply including more activity throughout your day:

  • Park farther from work and walk the extra distance, or better yet, walk to work.
  • Walk more between stores when shopping.
  • Take walking breaks at work.
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevato.r
  • Clean your own house.
  • Mow the lawn yourself.
  • Choose leisure-time activities that get you moving. Golfing, skiing, bowling, dancing, or playing tennis or basketball can all add to your overall activity level.

Exercising Safely

Almost everyone can do some form of exercise, but to exercise safely you must start slowly and build up gradually. Start by finding out how much exercise you are getting now. Look back on the last three days and write down the approximate length of time that you spend being physically active. Then gradually increase the minutes you spend being physically active, adding a few minutes each week.

Need To Know:

You should check with your doctor before beginning any type of exercise program if you:

  • Are a man over 40 years of age
  • Are a woman over 50 years of age
  • Have risk factors for CHD such as high blood cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, diabetes, or cigarette smoking
  • Have symptoms of any heart disease (pain in the chest, neck or shoulder during exercise, shortness or breath, faintness, or dizziness) or known heart disease

If you experience any of these warning signs, stop exercising and check with your doctor:

  • Lightheadedness
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cold sweat
  • Pain or pressure in the chest, neck, shoulder, or arms, especially on the left side

When you are exercising, check your heart rate periodically by counting your pulse at the neck or wrist. Count your heartbeats for 10 seconds, and then multiply by 6 to get the beats per minute.

In the early stages of your exercise routine, try to keep your heart rate within 65 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate (approximately 220 minus your age). This is a safe range, in which your heart, lungs, and blood vessels benefit from the exercise but are not overtaxed. As you get in better shape you may be able to let your heart rate climb to 75 percent of your maximum heart rate.

For example, a 60-year-old man has a maximum heart rate of 160 beats per minute (220 minus 60). Sixty-five to 70 percent of this figure is 104-112 beats per minute. Thus, this man should count 17 to 18 beats during a 10-second pulse check.

Be sure to include a five-minute warm-up and cool-down period of light stretching before and after exercise to warm up your muscles and avoid injury and stiffness.

How-To Information:

Getting started

You might want to join your local health club or YMCA so experts can help you get started on an exercise program safely and enjoyably.

If you want to start your own program or do it with a friend, pick an activity you enjoy. Walking is an activity that almost anyone can do and only requires a pair of good shoes.

Although everyone must move at his or her own pace, you can use the following exercise schedule as a guide:

  • Week 1: Add at least five minutes of exercise to your daily routine
  • Week 2: Exercise every day for at least ten minutes
  • Week 3: Exercise a total of twenty minutes on at least three days of the week and at least 10 minutes on the other days
  • Weeks 4 and 5: Exercise twenty minutes on most or all days of the week
  • Week 6 and after: Exercise thirty minutes on most or all days of the week


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