How physical activity can help to keep the heart healthy

What is physical activity?

Physical activity as any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that requires energy expenditure. Physical activity refers to all movement including during leisure time, for transport to get to and from places, or as part of a person’s work. Both moderate- and vigorous-intensity physical activity improve health. Regular physical activity is proven to help prevent and manage noncommunicable diseases such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and several cancers. It also helps prevent hypertension, maintain healthy body weight, and can improve mental health, quality of life and well-being. In people with heart disease, regular aerobic activity helps the heart work better. It also may reduce the risk of a second heart attack in people who already have had a heart attack. For most adults, this means getting 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise like brisk walking, or 75 minutes of high-intensity exercise like running each week, can help to improve the heart function.

Benefit of physical activity on the heart:

  • Exercise lowers blood pressure: Exercise slows the heart rate and lower blood pressure (at rest and when exercising). High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease.
  • Exercise is key to weight control: Exercise combined with a smart diet is an essential component for losing weight and even more important for keeping it off, which in turn helps optimize heart health. Being overweight puts stress on the heart and is a risk factor for heart disease and stroke.
  • Exercise helps strengthen muscles: A combination of aerobic workouts (which, depending on your fitness level, can include walking, running, swimming, and other vigorous heart-pumping exercise) and strength training (weightlifting, resistance training) is considered best for heart health. These exercises improve the muscles’ ability to draw oxygen from the circulating blood. That reduces the need for the heart—a muscular organ itself—to work harder to pump more blood to the muscles.
  • Exercise can help you quit smoking: As smokers become more fit, they often quit. And people who are fit in the first place are less likely to ever start smoking, which is one of the top risk factors for heart disease because it damages the structure and function of blood vessels.
  • Exercise can stop or slow the development of diabetes: The combination of strength training with regular aerobic exercise such as cycling, brisk walking, or swimming can reduce the risk of developing diabetes by over 50% by allowing the muscles to better process glycogen, a fuel for energy, which when impaired, leads to excessive blood sugars, and thus diabetes.
  • Exercise lowers stress: Stress hormones can put an extra burden on the heart. Exercise—whether aerobic (like running), resistance-oriented (like weight training) or flexibility-focused (like yoga)—can help you relax and ease stress.

Tips to get physically activity:

  • Park your car at the far end of a parking lot, so you have farther to walk to a building’s entrance.
  • Take the stairs rather than the elevator.
  • Wake up a bit earlier and exercise before doing anything else.
  • Use a wearable fitness tracker to count your steps. Try increasing your daily steps by 500 each week with the goal of reaching 10,000 steps per day. This number of steps per day have numerous benefits.

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