Physical activity for the prevention of cardiovascular diseases

At the basis of the most dangerous cardiovascular diseases lies atherothrombosis — the thrombosis of the major coronary and cerebrovascular arteries. Atherothrombosis represents a suddenly damaged atheroma which leads to the increased formation of platelets and, as a result, to thrombus formation. Atherothrombosis significantly influences the decline in life expectancy, reducing it with a few years in older people.

In more plain language, the heart is a muscle that also needs constant training. The cause of cardiovascular diseases is not the overloading of the body, but rather a sedentary lifestyle and, as a consequence, vessels untrained to changes in the external environment.

Our ancestors had exactly the same arterial system, but led a very active lifestyle; unlike us, they were not living in greenhouse conditions and were frequently subjected to temperature extremes. As a result, they had great immunity and were not as prone to cardiovascular diseases.

Unfortunately, most of us do not have enough time for an active lifestyle, often abusing fatty foods, alcohol and smoking. For a normal cardiovascular system activity, a person must walk at least 6 kilometers per day. How many kilometers are we usually walking per day?

Common cardiovascular diseases such as arterial hypertension, atherosclerosis, and, consequently, coronary heart disease and myocardial infarction are all the result of stress and sedentary lifestyle. Only physical activity is able to cope with the increased nervous tension and to balance the nervous and cardiovascular systems.

It is proved that physically active leisure prevents the consequences of a sedentary lifestyle (obesity, hypertension, diseases of the cardiovascular system, metabolic disorders). Physical activity should be accompanied by a positive psycho-emotional attitude and must not feel as a burden. Before beginning any regular physical activity it is necessary to take a medical examination, depending on age:

  • In patients up to 30 years, a simple physical examination is enough;
  • In patients from 30 to 40 years old, a resting ECG must be added to the examination;
  • Patients older than 40 years are recommended to begin training under the supervision of an instructor of a medical and sports clinic, with a preliminary physical exercise test;
  • Patients over 40 years are recommended to begin with an ordinary walk, gradually increasing the pace and distance.
  • People with obesity are recommended to take up aerobic exercises: running, swimming, skiing, or cycling. However, the most suitable kind of physical activity should be considered walking, which must be regular, of moderate intensity and performed daily. It should start with 10 minutes per day, gradually increasing the duration of training up to 30-40 minutes, with the inclusion of short (10-15 minutes) episodes of brisk walking. It is recommended to perform physical exercise about 60 minutes per day. A brisk walk for 30 minutes (speed – 4.5 km / h) for at least 3 times a week is also prescribed. Short-term activities (short training) provide glycogen consumption while long-term ones — consumption of the fat stores. Additional physical exercise could be climbing the stairs instead of taking the elevator and taking from 10 to 15-minute walks after meals. Housework is much more effective than 30-minute walks 6 days a week.

    The effectiveness of physical exercise in reducing body weight increases along with the increase of the walk’s duration during the day.

    In people with normal weight, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends at least 30 minutes of regular continuous physical exercise 5 times a week for a healthy lifestyle and prevention of non-infectious diseases, also including cardiovascular diseases.

    Self-control of the physical effort is necessary: it should not lead to an increased pulse rate above the age limit, which is defined as “180 — age in years”. The occurrence of breathlessness is a signal to reduce the intensity of the exercise. The training effect of physical exercise is manifested by a reduced pulse rate at rest, reduced pulse recovery time after a standard exercise (for example, 20 sit-ups). Deterioration of health (sleep, appetite, physical performance, appearance of discomfort) requires the reduction or elimination of physical activity.

    It must be emphasized that the majority of the recommended preventive measures are universal and are indicated not only in cardiovascular diseases, but also in a number of chronic non-infectious diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, some forms of cancer, diabetes, etc.

    According to some studies, it was found that regular exercise can activate the stem cells of the heart, thus leading to the restoration of heart muscles.

    Previously, it was found that stem cells take part in the production of new tissues by the injection of certain chemical substances, called “growth factors”. The latest experiments have shown, however, that regular physical exercise can produce the same effect. Moreover, a daily 30-minutes workout is able to partially restore even the damage obtained as a result of heart attack.

    The scientists compared the hearts of a rabbit and of a hare. It turned out that the hare — an excellent runner — had the heart about two times larger than that of the rabbit. The heart rate of the hare at rest had a frequency of only 140 beats per minute, while the rabbit’s was of 250 beats per minute. Not coincidentally, a hare lives about three times longer than a rabbit, while having a similar body weight.

    According to the doctors studying hypertension problems, in animals that are similar in size and body weight, the difference in the heart rate and the length of life correlated with the degree of physical activity. This conclusion is the key to unlocking the mysteries of health and longevity of our hearts. It means that the more physically active a person is, the more decreased will be his/her heart rate and the bigger will be the opportunity to live longer!

    In the course of another interesting research, different experts compared the number of heartbeats in trained people and in those who avoid physical activity. According to them, a well-trained heart reaches up to 50 beats per minute, while an untrained or normal one — 75 bpm. Elementary calculations show that an athletic heart produces 13 million strokes less (!) than an usual one in the course of a year. In other words — less work, more rest and… less wear. Consequently, in 72 years of life a physically trained heart commits with 933,120,000 heartbeats less than in a man leading an ordinary and sedentary lifestyle. This is a fairly convincing evidence of the benefits that a physically active lifestyle can offer!

    Modern possibilities of primary and secondary prevention of cardiovascular diseases (CVD) — a leading cause of morbidity and mortality in developed countries — are very high. The development of theoretical and methodological basis of evidence-based medicine in the last decades has provided a significant progress in the development and promotion among doctors and patients of evidence-based approaches to the prevention of cardiovascular diseases, as well as to the evaluation of its results.

    Regular physical exercise can lower blood pressure, reduce blood cholesterol levels, improve immunity and normalize the metabolic processes in the body and especially in the heart. It was proven that prevention measures, including regular physical exercise, certainly meet our targets for prevention of blood clots in the circulatory system and in the fight against obesity, which are the most dangerous risk factors for the development of cardiovascular diseases. That’s why it is never too late and it is in everyone’s power to start improving health by way of physical activity.

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