January 29, 2020
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released the findings of a study of physical activity levels across the United States based on 2015-2018 data. Fortunately, Pennsylvania was not among the least active states in the country; nonetheless, 20-25% of the population are physically inactive, and this number probably underestimates the true level.
The current CDC guidelines recommend muscle strengthening activity twice a week combined with moderately intense aerobic activity for a minimum of 150 minutes a week. The cost of being physically inactive is huge both from a health and financial perspective. It is considered one of the four main risk factors for preventable chronic disease, the others being tobacco use, poor nutrition and excessive alcohol use.
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Even in the absence of traditional risk factors, not getting enough physical activity can lead to heart disease, not to mention increasing the likelihood of developing other heart disease risk factors, including obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes.
Furthermore, a recent study showed that physically active individuals had a lower risk of developing atrial fibrillation, a rhythm disturbance that is often seen in the aging population. This was particularly true for women who participated in moderate physical activity. It is estimated that the annual health care costs related to physical inactivity is $117 billion and leads to one in 10 premature deaths.
In addition to preventing heart disease and improving one’s heart health, regular physical activity can improve sleep, increase the ability to perform routine daily activities, improve one’s thought process, reduce the chances of developing dementia, as well as improve bone and musculoskeletal health, which is important for those with arthritis.
Although the thought of exercising may be the furthest thing from one’s mind, the good news is that only modest activity is necessary to maintain good heart health. There are four main types of activities. These include aerobic, muscle-strengthening, bone-strengthening and stretching.
With respect to your heart health, aerobic exercises, also called endurance exercises, are the most beneficial. It makes the heart work harder during the activity, ultimately strengthening the heart muscle. Running, swimming, walking, bicycling and dancing are all examples of aerobic exercise. Even pushing a grocery cart in the store or walking the dog are aerobic exercises that have potential benefits and can be included in weekly exercise activity. To be considered moderate intensity, as recommended by the CDC, the activity should cause a noticeable increase in both your breathing and heart rate.
Physical activity is probably most beneficial for those who already have established heart disease, heart failure, have had a stroke or who have peripheral vascular disease. Research has shown that moderated physical activity is associated with a 10-20% reduction of coronary heart disease events, including death. Heart disease is the number one cause of death in this country. It is estimated that over 500,000 individuals have a first heart attack each year and another 200,000 have a repeat heart attack, so the potential number of reduced events and saved lives is significant.
As you begin the New Year and the new decade, it is important to consider putting exercise into your routine. If you haven’t been exercising routinely you should discuss this with your doctor before beginning an exercise program. This is particularly important if you have risk factors or have a heart condition. Your doctor can help guide you in the exercises that will be most beneficial. Here is to a heart healthy New Year.
Dr. David L. Fischman, professor of medicine at the Sidney Kimmel Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University, and Dr. Michael P. Savage, the Ralph J. Roberts Professor of Cardiology at Thomas Jefferson University, are co-directors of the Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. They write occasionally on topics related to heart health.