Physical Activity – Good for Your Heart

“Man was not made to rust out in idleness. A degree of exercise is as necessary for the preservation of health, both of body and mind, as his daily food.” Joseph Breck, (1794-1873) American Agriculturist.

Regular physical activity decreases the risk of coronary heart disease. This is true for people who are healthy, and also for people with established coronary heart disease. In the Women’s Health Study, 39,372 healthy female health professionals were evaluated for the type and quantity of physical activity on the risk of cardiovascular disease. The authors, Dr. Lee and associates, reporting in the March 21, 2001 issue of Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), concluded that irrespective of the baseline body weight status, physical activity reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease. Dr. Wessel and colleagues reporting in the Sept. 8, 2004 issue of JAMA found significantly less coronary artery disease on angiography in 936 women undergoing the procedure for suspected coronary heart disease. In a study of 772 men aged 40-59 years old with established coronary artery disease, and reported in Circulation in September 14, 2000 by Dr. Wannamethee and co researchers, death rates were 50{1d2611b7b2358db1a5d290a72f211c932ff29d0dc596ec3bc444512a63e05c32} lower in those who were physically active in comparison to those who were inactive.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American College of Sports Medicine recommends 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most days. In spite of the compelling heart protective data related to physical activity, less than 50{1d2611b7b2358db1a5d290a72f211c932ff29d0dc596ec3bc444512a63e05c32} of Americans are following these recommendations. And 25{1d2611b7b2358db1a5d290a72f211c932ff29d0dc596ec3bc444512a63e05c32} of adults are not active at all in their leisure time. Unfortunately, insufficient physical activity is also prevalent in our youth, Daily participation in high school physical education classes dropped from 42{1d2611b7b2358db1a5d290a72f211c932ff29d0dc596ec3bc444512a63e05c32} in 1991 to 33.0{1d2611b7b2358db1a5d290a72f211c932ff29d0dc596ec3bc444512a63e05c32} in 2005. And about 10{1d2611b7b2358db1a5d290a72f211c932ff29d0dc596ec3bc444512a63e05c32} of high school students do not take part in any moderate or vigorous physical activity.

“The first wealth is health.” Ralph Waldo Emerson. Regular physical activity has important health benefits across all age groups. Children and adolescents need weight-bearing exercise for normal skeletal development. In adults exercise helps in achieving and maintaining peak bone mass, well toned muscles and flexible joints and ligaments. Physically active individuals reduce their risk of developing diabetes mellitus, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. Studies indicate a decrease of upto 8 to 10 mm Hg in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure measurements, in patients who take up a regular exercise program. Physically active people also suffer from reduced rates of colon cancer, depression and anxiety. Physical activity improves the discomfort and disability associated with arthritis. One obese person once remarked, “Exercise is a dirty word. . . . Every time I hear it, I wash my mouth out with chocolate. No wonder inactive people are more obese. Regular exercise helps decrease body fat, reduce weight and improve general well being. There is some evidence that it boosts the immune system. Active people are more sexually active and have less erectile dysfunction. In older adults, activity helps them to live independently and perform more activities of daily living, It also. prevent falls in the seniors and decreases hospitalizations and overall mortality. Physically active people take fewer medications and have fewer physician visits. Health protective physical activity need not be strenuous – a 30 minute of brisk walking five or more times a week is beneficial. So the old adage, “no pain…no gain” is now passe.

The greatest health benefit of regular physical exercise is in preventing cardiovascular deaths. This results from a host of beneficial changes in hemodynamic, hormonal, metabolic, neurological, and respiratory function. Increased exercise capacity. improves the cardio-respiratory function and increases the maximal oxygen consumption. Exercise decreases high blood pressure, improves glucose metabolism and decreases insulin resistance. It helps reduce and maintain body weight. It improves circulation, stroke volume and cardiac output. It helps raise the good HDL cholesterol and decrease triglycerides.It increases blood volume and its ability to carry oxygen. It has a beneficial effect on the heart rate via an improvement in the autonomic nervous system. Strength training increases the strength of muscles, tendons and ligaments and also improves their flexibility. This translates into improved physical power, balance, and functional ability in older adults. Yoga and breathing exercises further help improve flexibility, balance the autonomic nervous system and reset breathing patterns.

A fat couch potato once said, “Whenever I get the energy to exercise, I sit down until it passes.” There is no excuse to say no to exercise. Exercise will help you live healthier, happier and longer. Exercise should include aerobic cardiovascular exercises, resistance exercises, stretching exercises and yoga. For aerobic exercise, try walking – it is cheap and easy to do. Thomas Jefferson (1743 – 1826) said, “The sovereign invigorator of the body is exercise, and of all the exercises walking is the best.” The next step up is jogging. This however puts more impact and stress on the body. Riding a bike or swimming are excellent no impact exercises. Resistance exercises should include chest wall push ups, back standing rows, shoulder presses, leg squats, abdominal crunches, biceps and triceps curls, and standing calf exercises. The third part of the exercise circuit is stretching. This should include stretching exercises for the back, chest, shoulders quadriceps, hamstrings, and the calves. Yoga is great for improving spine flexibility and improving breathing technique and rhythm.

Exercise can also be obtained by incorporating more activity into your daily routine. Examples are walking up the stairs instead of using elevators, gardening , raking leaves, dancing, carrying grocery bags instead of using a shopping cart, walking instead of driving for short journeys and parking farthest away and walking to the office or store. Washing and waxing your car, vacuuming, mopping, and dusting, and mowing the lawn can also provide a great work out. Sports such as hiking, canoing, kayaking, sailing, snorkeling or surfing, and horseback riding will get you in shape while incorporating fun. Golfers can carry their golf bags and walk instead of using a cart or caddy.

“The doctor of the future will give no medicine, but instead will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, in diet, and in the cause and prevention of disease.” Thomas Edison. Regular Physical exercise is a critical disease preventing human behavior. Incorporate this behavior into your daily life and you will reap the fruits quickly. As Jill Johnson said, “”Living a healthy lifestyle will only deprive you of poor health, lethargy, and fat.”