You are here:

The journey toward heart disease

Breaking up your daily exercise into three 10-minute bursts can be as effective as 30 minutes of continuous activity.

Image: Thinkstock

Exercise and lifestyle changes can thwart heart failure down the road.

Symptoms of heart failure—fatigue, shortness of breath, and swelling in your legs and feet—may creep up slowly or appear dramatically. Years of toil against high blood pressure, plaque-clogged arteries, and excess body fat gradually erode your heart’s capacity to move blood through the body effectively. The condition often germinates from the seeds of lifestyle choices planted much earlier in life.

“Cardiovascular disease can remain silent for decades, but even in its covert phase there are things you can do to slow or halt the destructive process,” says Dr. Mandeep Mehra, medical director of the Heart and Vascular Center at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

A life cycle snapshot

An article in the July issue of JACC: Heart Failure explored the role of key health factors in the progression of heart disease in 4,500 older adults, including those with risk factors such as high blood pressure and diabetes. Their average age was 72. Researchers focused on how the participants’ current behaviors (such as diet, exercise, smoking, alcohol use, and body weight) affected their chances of developing heart failure during a six-year period.

Those who engaged in positive health habits—especially regular exercise—were 45% less likely to develop heart failure com-pared with those with less-healthy habits. “When you look at people older than 65, you see the collective influence of health habits across the life cycle and the tipping point when ongoing silent disease converts into clinical heart failure symptoms,” says Dr. Mehra.

Walk it off

While it’s hardly news that exercising is good for you, the people in this study who walked at a brisker pace and burned at least 845 calories each week in leisure activities (see “How many calories are you burning?”) cut their risk of heart failure by a quarter. This finding makes a lot of sense on the cellular level, say the study authors. As cell damage progresses because of inflammation and other destructive processes, your metabolism changes, you gain fat, and you lose muscle mass. Exercise protects your heart health by reversing these processes, thereby helping you avoid the hazards of high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity. In fact, the study participants who maintained a healthier body mass index also fared better.

Even if you have a long history of not exercising, it’s still possible to create a safe, healthy exercise routine suited to your abilities. To begin, take a close look at your current level of activity. Build activity into your day by taking the stairs versus the elevator and parking a short distance from your destination. Although everyday chores such as gardening and housework help you burn calories, they aren’t a substitute for a more structured exercise regimen. Ideally, you should aim for 30 minutes of exercise at least five times a week. A thorough workout would include five or 10 minutes of warm-up to raise your heart rate, at least 30 minutes of brisker activity, and a few minutes of cooling down to allow your heart to return to its resting pace.

Resistance exercises—activities that build your muscles—can increase your strength, improve your flexibility, and help you avoid falls. But stick to lighter weights and milder activities so as not to strain your heart.

Check with your doctor

If you don’t have particular medical concerns, a program of moderate walking and strength training is a safe way to go. If you have arthritis, other musculoskeletal issues, or heart disease, talk to your doctor before you start. And don’t be deterred from making lifestyle changes now, even if you’ve lagged over the years. The choices you make today still matter to your overall outlook.

Posted by: Dr.Health

Back to Top