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Exercising to protect your heart

Published:Wednesday | February 16, 2011 | 12:00 AM
KennethGardner, fitness club

Kenneth Gardner, fitness club

Heart disease seriously impairs the length and quality of our life. The major risk factors of heart disease are high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, physical inactivity and smoking. All of these factors can be managed very successfully by our lifestyle.

Regular physical activity, including weight training, elevates our level of 'good cholesterol' which protects against heart disease by clearing the 'bad cholesterol' from our arteries. Each milligram increase in 'good cholesterol' decreases our risk of heart disease two to three per cent. When we reduce our body weight by exercising, we also reduce our level of the 'bad cholesterol' and reduce our risk of heart disease.

High blood pressure

Regular physical activity, even of moderate intensity, will strengthen the walls of the heart, increase the elasticity of the blood vessels, reduce our blood pressure and improve our heart efficiency. High blood pressure increases the workload of the heart and causes it to enlarge. It wears away the walls of the heart and makes it difficult for it to pump blood against the high resistance encountered in the blood vessels.

This further weakens the heart muscles and increases the risk of heart attack and congestive heart failure. Each one-point reduction in our diastolic blood pressure reduces our risk of a heart attack by about two to three per cent, so we can imagine the exponential increase when there is a significant reduction in blood pressure.

Poor circulation

One of the critical factors of heart disease is poor circulation within the heart itself, and exercise is used extensively in stress testing, treating and cardiac rehabilitation. Regular physical activity will stimulate collateral blood circulation, increase pumping capacity of the heart and decrease the development of life-threatening clots.

Heart disease is positively related to the deterioration in the heart's structure and function because of a lack of regular physical activity. Sedentary persons who embark on a regular exercise programme can reduce their risk for heart attack by 35 to 55 per cent. Regular physical activity will also reduce the hazards of other related problems such as obesity, diabetes, stress and smoking. People with diabetes have high blood-fat levels and a two to six times higher incidence of heart attack.

Dr Kenneth Gardner is an exercise physiologist at Holiday Hills Research Center; email: