Cardiovascular Health

Physical Activity and Cardiovascular Health

What is cardiovascular disease and how can exercise help?

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide. It includes a wide range of conditions that affect the heart and vascular system, such as arrhythmias, heart disease, heart failure and atherosclerosis.

Being physically active is a major step toward good Cardiovascular Health. It’s one of the most effective tools for strengthening the heart muscle. It keeps your weight under control and wards off artery damage from elevated cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure. All of which can lead to a heart attack or stroke.

Physical activity can help improve cardiovascular function through adaptations to the heart and vascular system. Regular physical activity decreases resting heart rate and blood pressure. It also increases the body’s ability to take in and use oxygen (maximal oxygen consumption or aerobic capacity). As this improves, regular activities can be performed with less fatigue.

Physical activity is classed as low, moderate or vigorous intensity, which differs from person to person. Moderate-intensity activity makes breathing become heavier. However you should still able to hold a conversation. Vigorous-intensity activities make us huff and puff so we can’t talk as easily.

How do I get started?

Start with moderate-intensity physical activities that make you breathe a little heavier, then increase the duration and frequency gradually. You don’t need to be an elite athlete to benefit from physical activity. In fact, recommendations are surprisingly modest. The Australian Government recommends 30 to 45 minutes a day, five or more days of the week of moderate intensity activity.

If 30 minutes of continuous activity is hard to schedule in then try to work several shorter periods of activity into your day in 10-minute blocks. The most important thing is to get started. There is mounting evidence in the scientific literature that physical activity and physical fitness have a powerful influence on a host of chronic diseases.

There isn’t a ‘one-size fits all’ for physical activity.  Challenging yourself is vital. Your body adapts quickly and is less challenged when you do the same workout all the time. Mix up your workouts with varied time intervals and challenging activities whenever possible. “The bottom line is any movement is better than none, and the more you move, the more you boost and protect your heart.”

Examples of physical activities for Cardiovascular Health include: Brisk walking, running, swimming, cycling, dancing, playing tennis or working out with weights (such as hand weights, weight machines, resistance bands or body-weight exercises, such as push-ups, squats and chin-ups).

Pro Exercise SA  John Cox, Exercise Physiologist

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