How Much Exercise Do You Need to Reduce the Chances of Heart Disease?

Not many people realize that the heart is actually a muscle. Pretty neat, right? Being a muscle, this means that you can strengthen it with regular exercise. But rather than lift weights, you can make your heart stronger by participating in activities like running or swimming. Basically, any activity that increases your heart rate for an extended period of time is going to contribute to a healthier heart. So, exactly how much exercise is needed to reduce your chances of heart disease? Before answering this, let’s talk about what heart disease is.

Heart Disease Explained

Heart disease is an umbrella term used to describe anything that causes the heart to not function like it should. For example, when the heart muscles weaken and atrophy, they won’t be able to pump blood as efficiently throughout the body (leading to complications). If the blood vessels on the heart become clogged, it can result in a heart attack. Yet, all of these things can be prevented or prolonged with regular exercise.

Why Does Exercise Matter?

When you exercise, you literally force your heart to become stronger. As your heart becomes stronger, it’s able to pump blood throughout the body more efficiently, which will cause less strain on the heart (and decrease the chances of getting a heart attack).

But the greatest advantage to exercise is that it decreases blood pressure. High blood pressure is the driving force behind heart disease, so if you can keep it at a manageable level, you’ll dramatically decrease your chances of complications with your heart. Here are a few more benefits associated with regular exercise:

  • The head of hypertension research at the University of Maryland, Elijah Saunders (M.D.), says that regular exercise is a great way to control blood pressure. Why? Because it causes the body to release nitric oxide, which keeps blood vessels open.
  • The British Medical Journal published a study that demonstrated how just a single brisk walk per day can raise the level of “good” HDL cholesterol in the body. This study concluded that people had a 50% decreased chance of experiencing coronary complications if they exercised regularly.
  • Heart attack patients who regularly exercise are 25% less likely to have a repeat heart attack.
  • Decreased levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol in the body.
  • Decreased risk of coronary heart disease (which can result in a heart attack).

By now, it’s clear to see just how many benefits are associated with exercising on a regular basis. Now the real question is, “How much exercise is enough?” That’s what we’ll be answering now.

How Much Exercise Do You Really Need?

The American Heart Association says that exercising five days per week, at 30 minutes per session, can dramatically decrease your chances of getting heart disease. “Physical activity” refers to any activity that increases heart rate, burns calories, and forces you to move (biking, swimming, jogging, walking, climbing stairs, and even playing sports qualify). Despite whether or not 30 minutes is an optimal number, one thing can be said for certain – some exercise is better than none.

Circulation published a study suggesting that 150 minutes of exercise per week can reduce your chances of coronary heart disease by up to 15%. Remember that this exercise needs to be moderate, meaning, it increases your heart rate. Joining an exercise program is a great way to stay motivated throughout the process since you’ll be able to increase heart health and burn calories with people who have similar goals.

Even if you’ve already experienced heart problems in the past, know that it’s not too late! You can still benefit from regular exercise. For example, people who’ve already had one heart attack can dramatically decrease their chances of getting another simply by exercising just 20 to 30 minutes each day. It’s a simple and effective way to live a longer, healthier life without experiencing complications related to your heart.

Inactivity Can Be Very Dangerous

It’s estimated that there are more than 250,000 deaths per year in the U.S. attributed to lack of exercise. Living a lifestyle that’s filled with inactivity is the fastest way to put yourself at risk of heart disease. Risk factors like high cholesterol, obesity, and high blood pressure are things that you can control with regular exercise. Granted, you can’t reverse your own aging, but you can prolong heart problems significantly.

The University of South Carolina conducted a research study that concluded that 23 hours of inactivity per week can result in a whopping 65% increased risk of dying from heart disease. People with half the hours of inactivity only had a 35% risk. These numbers go to show that you really do have a lot of control over your fate. Exercise regularly, and there’s no reason why you can’t prolong heart disease for many years to come.

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