How To Protect Your Heart With Regular Exercise

How To Protect Your Heart With Regular Exercise

Introduction

Let’s talk about all the potential benefits that regular exercise and physical activity have on your heart. There is a reason that the American Heart Association recommends exercise for heart health, because it works and it works very well.

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Generally speaking, regular exercise is going to reduce your risk of coronary heart disease, heart attacks and heart failure, including death. It also has protective effects against stroke, diabetes and cancer, although I’ll be focusing on the heart in this post.

I’m going to quickly summarize those benefits, but let’s first review the exercise recommendations of the AHA. Here are their recommendations for overall cardiovascular health:

  • At least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity at least 5 days per week for a total of 150
  • OR At least 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity at least 3 days per week for a total of 75 minutes; or a combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity
  • AND Moderate- to high-intensity muscle-strengthening activity at least 2 days per week for additional health benefits.

I just want to point out that the AHA is recommending both aerobic activity as well as muscle strengthening activity as both have beneficial effects on your heart.

It has many beneficial effects acting directly on the heart muscle (myocardium) tissue, including:

  • Decreased oxygen demand by the heart muscle, which means that your body uses oxygen more efficiently
  • Improved blood flow through the coronary blood vessels which supply oxygenated blood to the heart muscle
  • Improved responsiveness to nitric oxide, which helps the arteries deliver blood
  • Decreased dysfunction of the cells lining the heart (endothelium)
  • Improved activity of the stem cells of the heart (endothelial proginator cells, circulating angiogenic cells)

It has protective effects on your blood vessels, reducing your risk of atherosclerosis or plaque formation:

  • Improved lipid profile: lowers cholesterol, LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides, improves HDL (good) cholesterol
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Reduction in total body fat
  • Increased insulin sensitivity and your bodies ability to regulate blood sugar
  • Decreased inflammation, this occurs because of reduced C-reactive protein

It has psychological benefits as well:

  • Reduced risk of depression
  • Reduced stress and better control of it
  • Increased social activity and support
  • Protection from decline of cognitive function as we age

Exercise also reduces your risk of forming thromboses or blood clots via:

  • Decreased platelet stickiness/adhesiveness
  • Decreased blood viscosity, which means your blood flows more smoothly
  • Increased ability to break down clots

It also has protective effects against developing arrhythmias of the heart (which are essentially when the electrical activity of the heart goes haywire):

  • Increased vagal tone, which acts as the “breaks” for your heart activity
  • Reduced sympathetic activity, which is essentially the “gas” for heart activity
  • Improved heart rate variability, so it won’t fluctuate as much and when it does you tolerate it better

Other noteworthy benefits that are cardioprotective:

  • Reduction in weight
  • Increase in exercise tolerance
  • Increased skeletal muscle function and strength
  • Improved lung function
  • Associated with a reduced risk of smoking
  • Improved aerobic capacity or more efficient oxygen utilization by skeletal muscle
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