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  • Writer's pictureRiley Stephens

Heart Disease and Exercise

What is heart disease?

Heart disease is the single most common cause of death globally. Heart disease is a broad term to classify conditions that impact the heart. Such conditions include blood vessel diseases such as coronary artery disease (CAD), irregular heartbeats (arrhythmias), congenital heart disease (Heart conditions you are born with), heart valve diseases and diseases of the heart muscles (cardiomyopathies) 1 .

Fortunately, the mortality rates of heart related conditions have declined as medicine and treatment pathways have advanced as many of these conditions can be prevented or treated with healthy lifestyle choices, including exercise 2 . Due to there being reduced mortality rates from heart related conditions this brings a new challenge as those who are living with a chronic heart disease may need support to manage their symptoms (such as angina, shortness of breath and fatigue) and to reduce the chances of future heart related issues such as heart attacks 2 . Exercise-based cardiac rehabilitation and training in conjunction with education and other lifestyle changes aims to improve the health outcomes of those with a heart condition.

The Benefits of Exercise on the heart

Regular exercise can have numerous benefits for our heart health and overall well-being. Certain traits, conditions, or habits may increase the risk of developing coronary heart disease. Physical activity can help manage and control some of these risk factors:

  • Lowering blood pressure and triglycerides (a type of fat in the blood)

  • Raising HDL (high-density lipoproteins) (“good”) cholesterol levels

  • Reducing the risk of overweight and obesity, when combined with a reduced-calorie diet

  • Maintaining a healthy weight over time once you have lost weight

  • Helping your body manage blood sugar and insulin levels, which lowers your risk for type 2 diabetes

  • Reducing levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), which is a sign of inflammation and an increased risk of heart disease

  • Possibly helping you quit smoking, which is a major risk factor for heart disease

Regular exercise can also help our non-physical health:

  • Make you feel more confident, happy and relaxed  

  • Improve self-esteem 

  • Prevent and help manage depression and anxiety, especially when exercising in nature, such as parks, gardens or at the beach 

  • Help you sleep better  

  • Lower your risk of dementia later in life.  

What type of exercise?

There is really no perfect type of exercise required for improving our heart health and reducing the risk of heart disease. Conventionally, aerobic exercise such as walking, running, cycling and swimming for example were seen as the key modes needed to improve our heart health. This is still true however, there has been greater research into the best mode of exercise for our heart health.

Therefore, below is the general guidelines for adults set out by Heart Foundation Australia.

  • Get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity, or a combination of both, preferably spread throughout the week.

  • Add moderate- to high-intensity muscle-strengthening activity (such as resistance or weights) at least 2 days per week.

  • Limit sedentary time (prolonged sitting). Even light-intensity activity can offset some of the risks of being sedentary.

  • Gain even more benefits by being active at least 300 minutes (5 hours) per week.

  • Increase amount and intensity gradually over time.

Where can I turn to for help?

If you're looking for help getting started with exercise or managing an existing heart condition, don't hesitate to consult your GP and get a referral to an Exercise Physiologist. These experts are trained to prescribe exercise for a wide range of conditions and can help you work towards your personal goals by adapting exercises to your circumstances and functional capacity. By taking charge of your health and making exercise a part of your life, you can reduce your risk of heart disease and improve your overall quality of life.

Useful Links:

Heart Foundation (exercise and physical activity)


Benefits of Exercise on Heart Health



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