By Wendy Moltrup, MS, CHES
Wondering how to reduce the risk of heart disease? Being more physically active slows the aging process and benefits your heart and your health. In addition to the physical changes you see, a healthy exercise program results in beneficial physiological changes that occur at a microscopic level inside your body. You can fight the aging process from the inside out with a few simple lifestyle changes.
Heart Disease: You’re in Control
We’re teaming up with the American Heart Association to raise awareness about the Go Red For Women campaign and heart disease. Heart disease, also known as cardiovascular disease or CVD, is the leading cause of death worldwide.
The good news is that you can reduce your risk of CVD. A combination of genetics, environmental factors and lifestyle habits influence your risk for heart disease. The American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association identify variables like diet and exercise as modifiable risk factors for CVD—meaning, you have control over the choices you make about them. You can reduce your risk by eating a healthier diet, not smoking and being more physically active.
Young at Heart: Fight Aging and Heart Disease with Easy Lifestyle Changes
For the purposes of this discussion, we’ll define physical activity to include your participation in a structured exercise session, such as a Spinning® class, and the activities of your everyday routine, such as walking to the store instead of driving.
Although we are a little partial to indoor cycling, all types of physical activity are good for your heart as well as the structure and function of your cardiovascular system. Research demonstrates that cycling, and indoor cycling specifically, can help improve cardiovascular health and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Your cardiovascular system includes the heart, blood and blood vessels, which are responsible for carrying blood, oxygen and fuel to and from your muscles. Your heart is a muscle and, like any other muscle in your body, needs activity to remain strong. The benefits of physical activity also extend to your vascular system—the arteries, veins and capillaries that carry blood to and from the heart and, of course, the muscles that are working out during a Spinning class.
Research demonstrates an association between physical activity and a reduced risk of CVD in healthy subjects as well as individuals with a pre-existing condition or history of cardiovascular disease and related conditions. Specific benefits of physical activity for your cardiovascular system include:
Exercise Slows Vascular Aging
Studies find that physical activity positively affects the lining of your blood vessels, the endothelium. As we age, it is normal for a certain degree of hardening of the arteries, arteriosclerosis, but regular exercise “may reduce the age-related increase in arterial stiffness.”
Exercise Reduces Plaque in Your Arteries
Atherosclerosis, a type of arteriosclerosis, is the accumulation of plaque in your arteries. Atherosclerosis is the result of a combination of factors, including high cholesterol, specifically excess LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, triglycerides and other products in your blood. This accumulation of plaque restricts blood flow. To improve your cholesterol profile, exercise is again a proven part of the solution. Studies have found that exercise is associated with a lower LDL level and an increased HDL (high-density lipoprotein) level. HDL cholesterol helps remove the excess cholesterol from your body.
Exercise Reduces High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)
You can also reduce your blood pressure through exercise. One of the many benefits of exercise, it improves your heart’s strength so your heart doesn’t have to work as hard to pump blood to the rest of your body. Lowering your blood pressure also protects the structure of your vascular walls, which can get stretched and stressed as a result of high blood pressure.
How Much Exercise You Need to Reduce Your Risk of Heart Disease
The amount of exercise necessary to reduce your risk is not as much as you might expect. Given that heart disease is a concern worldwide, we are seeing cooperation across time zones, borders and various stakeholders to develop a global strategy to reduce the risk and prevalence of cardiovascular diseases.
International organizations, including the World Heart Federation and the World Health Organization, the American Heart Association, and the US Department of Health and Human Services all recommend at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate physical activity throughout the week, such as brisk walking, to reduce your risk of heart disease. You can break it up to fit your schedule—30 minutes per day or 10-15 minutes several times a day—so there are many ways you can achieve the minimum exercise dosage.
You could also choose to participate in a more vigorous workout, such as a Spinning class. The American Heart Association recommends a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) per week of vigorous exercise or a combination of the two.
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