Avoiding Heart Disease: Physical Aspects

Today we’re going to tackle the physical aspect of avoiding heart disease.  There’s a myriad of reasons why you should be exercising, and improving your cardiovascular health is at the very top of that list.  Here’s some of the ways that exercise will improve your heart health and help you avoid a heart attack.

Increased Activity Tolerance

Your heart is a muscle, just like all the other muscles in your body.  It’s working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.  You might think that means you don’t have to exercise it any more, but it all depends on your activity level.  If you have a very active job with a lot of physical labor involved, you’re already getting your exercise in and may need rest more than anything else.  But for most of us, our jobs are more sedentary.  That means that the workload we place on our hearts every day is rather low, so in order to be prepared for the times when we have to be more active, we have to keep our hearts in shape through regular exercise.  Did you know that the days after the first big snowstorm of the year have an increased number of patients coming to the emergency department with chest pain and heart attacks?  The reason is that people who have been sedentary most of the year go out to shovel their driveway, but their heart isn’t ready for that much activity.  It’s not able to effectively pump oxygen to the coronary arteries, and all of a sudden, they find themselves in the ER with a doctor telling them they’ve had a heart attack.  Don’t let this happen to you!  Keep your heart ready for action through regular exercise.

Lower Resting Heart Rate and Blood Pressure

The stronger your heart gets, the more effectively it pumps blood.  When its in peak working condition, it doesn’t take a whole lot of effort to pump the blood you need for your normal everyday activities.  As a result, your resting heart rate will be lower, and your blood pressure will be lower.  Like we discussed in The Origins of Heart Disease, high blood pressure is one of the driving forces behind the development of atherosclerotic plaques, so if you can keep your resting heart rate and blood pressure lower, you’ve done a lot to avoid those plaques.  I can always tell when I have a patient who’s an athlete.  I’ll hook them up to a monitor and their heart rate will be slow and steady in the 40’s and 50’s, with a blood pressure in the 100’s-110’s.  Most people with a heart rate in the 40’s are starting to feel dizzy, lightheaded, and may even pass out.  Athletes walk around with this low heart rate because they’ve trained their heart to pump effectively.  When you’re in good physical condition, a low heart rate is an indicator that you’ve got good cardiovascular health.

An Outlet for Stress

This may be one of the most powerful ways that exercise protects your heart.  We live in a stressful world that doesn’t often afford us the opportunity to work out our stresses as they’re happening.  Our fight or flight response is made for, well, fight or flight.  We get the rush of adrenaline, the release of glucose and fatty acids to fuel our bodies, and then we’re meant to use those resources to either fight for our lives or run like the wind.  But nowadays, we sit in our offices and stress over budgets, or wait in rush hour traffic stressing about the time we’re wasting, etc.  We still get the adrenaline rush, which ups our blood pressure and puts us at risk for vessel damage.  We also still get the release of glucose and fatty acids, which don’t fuel exercising muscles, so they keep circulating around, and eventually, if our vessel walls are damaged, can get caught and trapped, starting the cycle of atherosclerosis.  Take the time to exercise and burn off your stress from the day.  Whether you enjoy a long run, a swim in the pool, or punching the living daylights out of a bag at the gym, you’ll feel better after you’ve given your body time to decompress.

I hope this post has helped you understand a bit more of just how important exercise is to your cardiovascular health.  If you’d like to read more, I’ve written quite a few posts on exercise, so click on the exercise tag in the sidebar, and it’ll take you to all those posts!

Don’t forget my Health Coaching Giveaway ends this wednesday, July 4th.  Celebrate America’s independence by signing up for a chance to win free coaching to help you pursue your own wellness.

This post is part of Monday Mania at the Healthy Home Economist.

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