Heart Disease and Exercise

Our attitude to exercise can be quite co dependant on too many attributing factors; I don’t have time, I don’t like the gym, it is too dark in the evenings, the list goes on and on. Exercise like sleep is a necessity for a healthy lifestyle. Exercise is not just for losing weight and looking good, the most important reason for exercise is for your health!











Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death in Australia, with 45,500 deaths attributed to CVD in Australia in 2010. Cardiovascular disease kills one Australian every 12 minutes.(Australian Heart Foundation)

What is Coronary Heart Disease?

Coronary Heart Disease is a condition that affects the blood vessels (coronary arteries), which supply the heart’s muscle with blood, oxygen and nutrients. If these become partially blocked, a person can have decreased heart function and may experience pain in the chest, arm, neck or jaw (angina). If the vessels become completely blocked, some of the heart muscle can die. This is a heart attack.

The disease process can start when conditions – like high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and smoking – cause damage to artery walls. The body tries to repair the damage, but in the process, fat, cholesterol, calcium and other substances can be deposited in artery walls. At the same time these can become narrowed from fat and cholesterol build-up inside the artery walls, which is a disease known as atherosclerosis. Over time this build-up (plaque) can narrow the artery walls and can also develop a hard fibrous cap. If this fibrous cap ruptures, a blood clot can form and completely block the blood vessel, leading to a heart attack.

The most common symptom of heart disease is chest pain, but in many cases there are no symptoms before a heart attack. The “classic” heart attack symptom is pain or pressure in the chest that can spread to the arm, shoulder, neck or jaw. Some people experience abdominal pain, nausea, shortness of breath, palpitations or weakness without any chest pain. If you have any of these symptoms, call an ambulance immediately.

Risk factors

Risk factors include; high blood pressure, high cholesterol, overweight and obesity, physical inactivity, low fruit and vegetable intake, alcohol and smoking. Nine in 10 adult Australians have at least one risk factor for CVD and one in four (25%) have three or more risk factors.

How many risk factors  do you have…?

Below are some of the statistics on risk factors:

  • Smoking – Smoking is the single most important cause of ill health and death in Australia.
  • Obesity – Close to two in every three (63.3%) adult Australians are overweight or obese, with 28.3% obese and 35% overweight.5 The prevalence of overweight and obesity since 1995 has increased by 12%. Adult males were more likely to be overweight or obese than adult females
  • Physical inactivity – ** (In 2011/12, more than two in every three (66.9%) adult Australians were either sedentary or had low levels of exercise)
  • High cholesterol and high blood pressure – High cholesterol and high blood pressure are risk factors for heart disease.

**Physical inactivity is a major modifiable risk factor that is impacting on the health of all Australians, accounting for 6.7% of the total disease burden attributable to risk factors.1 Insufficient physical activity is the primary modifiable behavioural risk factor associated with disease burden in women, and is second only to tobacco smoking for men.










Effects of Exercise on Heart Disease and Cholesterol

Like all muscles, the heart becomes stronger as a result of exercise, so it can pump more blood through the body with every beat and continue working at maximum level, if needed, with less strain. The resting heart rate of those who exercise is also slower, because less effort is needed to pump blood.

A person who exercises often and vigorously has the lowest risk for heart disease, but any amount of exercise is beneficial. Studies consistently find that light-to-moderate exercise is even beneficial in people with existing heart disease.

**Note, however, that anyone with heart disease or cardiac risk factors should seek medical advice before beginning a workout program.

Exercise has a number of effects that benefit the heart and circulation (blood flow throughout the body). These benefits include;

  • improving cholesterol and fat levels,
  • reducing inflammation in the arteries,
  • helping with weight loss programs
  • helping to keep blood vessels flexible and open.

Studies continue to show that physical activity and avoiding high-fat foods are the two most successful means of reaching and maintaining heart-healthy levels of fitness and weight.

Check out the Australian Government recommendations for physical activity for the whole family below:


People who maintain an active lifestyle have a 45% lower risk of developing heart disease than do sedentary people. Beneficial changes in cholesterol and lipid levels, including lower LDL (“bad” cholesterol) levels, occur even when people performed low amounts of moderate- or high-intensity exercise, such as walking or jogging 12 miles a week. However, more intense exercise is required to significantly change cholesterol levels, notably increasing HDL (“good” cholesterol). An example of this kind of intense program would be jogging about 20 miles a week. Benefits occur even with very modest weight loss, suggesting that overweight people who have trouble losing pounds can still achieve considerable heart benefits by exercising.

Some studies suggest that for the greatest heart protection, it is not the duration of a single exercise session that counts but the total weekly amount of energy expended.

Resistance (weight) training has also been associated with heart protection. It may offer a complementary benefit to aerobics. If you have heart disease or risk factors for heart disease, check with your doctor before starting resistance training.


So get that work out gear out and get active!

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