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Apr 28, 2022

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Exercise with Heart Disease

Getting regular exercise is extremely important for your heart! It can help strengthen your heart muscles as well as improve key health indicators like blood pressure and cholesterol levels, which your healthcare provider uses to monitor your overall health. Physically active individuals have a 21% decreased risk of cardiovascular disease incidence and a 36% decreased risk of death due to cardiovascular disease compared to inactive individuals. Some of the biggest contributors to heart disease are obesity, high blood pressure, and elevated cholesterol levels.

Before considering medications to manage these risk factors, talk to your doctor about trying lifestyle modifications through diet and exercise.

The 2013 AHA Guidelines for the Management of Overweight and Obesity in Adults state that a weight loss of at least 5% is recommended to reduce blood pressure and improve blood cholesterol.

Roughly 21% of American adults meet the criteria for lifestyle modifications only as a treatment for high blood pressure. The American Heart Association reminds physicians that lifestyle changes such as increasing physical activity should be the first treatment option when dealing with patients who have mild to moderate elevation in blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

“If we start with physical activity as a treatment, this can delay starting patients on medicinal therapy that they will need to take for the rest of their lives.”—American Heart Association

Can exercise lower blood pressure?

Blood pressure is the overall pressure your blood has against the walls of blood vessels. This pressure allows blood to be circulated throughout the body and provides oxygen to all of the body’s organs. Systolic blood pressure is the pressure exerted when blood is pushed into the arteries. The normal range for systolic blood pressure is 120 mmHg or below. Diastolic pressure is the pressure blood exerts within the arteries between heartbeats. The normal range for diastolic pressure is 80 mmHg or below. Keeping your blood pressure within a normal range is very important for your health as a whole. Having a blood pressure too low can result in your organs not getting enough oxygen as the blood is not pumping to them effectively. Having a blood pressure too high for a prolonged period of time can cause heart problems due to the long-term force of the blood against your arteries.

The 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee determined that engaging in aerobic, dynamic, or combined exercise training has significant average effects on systolic and diastolic blood pressure, causing an average decrease of 3 mmHg in both. More frequent and a higher volume of physical activity could improve 24-hour blood pressure and risk of progression of heart disease in mild-moderate risk patients.

Can exercise lower cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a substance found in the blood that comes from the liver or the food you eat. Ideally, you want low levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) as this is what builds up in your arteries and causes blockages, and you want high levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) as this helps get rid of LDL. To read more on the importance of cholesterol check out our blog Cholesterol: What Cholesterol Is and Why You Should Care.

Conclusion

The prescription of physical activity is a great choice for patients with mild to moderate elevations in blood pressure and cholesterol because of the multiple and long-term benefits. Patients are advised to aim for 300 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week, that’s just 45 minutes a day. You can also opt to do 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity a week which is just over 20 minutes a day. Physical activity has further benefits beyond cardiovascular health, including a decreased risk of some cancers and all-cause mortality, improved bone, brain, and mental health, and better physical function, sleep, and quality of life. Start taking steps to improve your physical health today and improve your heart health!

The content was informed by:
(1) O'Riordan M. AHA: Physical Activity Should First-line Therapy as BP, LDL Tick Upwards. TCT MD Published: June 2, 2021.
(2) Gibbs BB., et al. Physical Activity as a Critical Component of First-Line Treatment for Elevated Blood Pressure or Cholesterol: Who, What, and How?: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association. Hypertension . 2021;78(2):e26-e37.

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