If you’re a middle-aged couch potato, are you destined for heart failure in your golden years? Not if you get off that sofa and do something – now.
A recent study published in the American Heart Association’s Journal Circulation found that even previously sedentary but otherwise healthy people could improve their heart health with high-intensity exercise.
“The message here is to get moving,” says Dr. Hetal Gandhi, a cardiologist at Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital in Barrington, Ill. “Just because you haven’t exercised much in the past doesn’t mean you shouldn’t start now.”
A sedentary lifestyle is one of five major risk factors (along with hypertension, high cholesterol, smoking and obesity) for cardiovascular disease, Dr. Gandhi says, adding that reducing these risk factors decreases the chance of having a heart attack or stroke.
Regular physical exercise can have a significant benefit on cardiovascular health by lowering high blood pressure, reducing weight, decreasing bad (LDL) cholesterol, increasing good (HDL) cholesterol and lowering stress. Regular aerobic exercise, such as cycling, brisk walking or swimming, can reduce the risk of developing diabetes by more than 50 percent by allowing the muscles to better process glycogen, a fuel for energy, Dr. Gandhi notes.
“Patients with newly diagnosed heart disease who participate in exercise programs report an earlier return to work and improvements in quality of life, such as more self-confidence, lower stress, less anxiety and, most importantly, it reduces the death rate by 20 to 25 percent,” he says.
For overall cardiovascular health, the American Heart Association recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity at least five days per week for a total of 150 minutes, or at least 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity at least three days per week for a total of 75 minutes.
“If you simply cannot squeeze in half an hour of exercise on a given day, then try to work more activities into the day,” Dr. Gandhi says. He offers these suggestions:
- Taking the stairs rather than the elevator
- Parking your car at the far end of a parking lot so you have farther to walk to a building’s entrance
- Spending part of your lunch break walking
- Walking indoors (perhaps at a mall) on days with poor weather
- Waking a bit earlier and exercising before you do anything else
- Using a wearable fitness tracker to count your steps
“Try increasing your daily steps by 500 each week with the goal of reaching at least 10,000 steps per day, a level that can produce many health benefits,” Dr. Gandhi says.