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Being a couch potato doesn't just increase your chances of gaining weight. It's also a major risk factor for heart disease. (Read about "Coronary Heart Disease")
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), heart disease is almost twice as likely to develop in inactive people as in those who are more active. And, the activity doesn't have to be Olympic in nature. Studies show that even mild to moderate exercise can help.
What kind of exercise are we talking about? According to the American Medical Association (AMA), aerobic activities are best for the healthy heart. Examples include:
AMA says moderate-intensity activities such as gardening, dancing or walking a dog are also useful to health, even if their intensity doesn't classify them as aerobic.
Before starting an exercise program, it's best to check with your doctor, especially if you have a family or personal history of heart disease. But that doesn't mean that people who've had heart problems (Read about "The Heart & Cardiovascular System") can't benefit from exercise. In fact, according to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), persons who have had a heart attack (Read about "Heart Attack") can actually increase their chances of survival if they change their habits to include regular physical activity. In addition, NHLBI says exercise can improve your ratio of so-called "good" to "bad" cholesterol. (Read about "Cholesterol")
Exercise works in a number of ways to help your heart. For one thing, physical activity of the right intensity, frequency and duration can increase the fitness of your heart and lungs. The AMA says exercise also works by helping reduce other risk factors for heart disease. (Read about "Heart Risks") For example, high blood pressure is one of the key risk factors for heart disease and exercise can help control blood pressure. (Read about "Hypertension: High Blood Pressure") Exercise can also help you lose weight and excess pounds are another risk factor for heart disease. (Read about "Obesity") And of course, exercise can produce other benefits such as more stamina and energy.
Despite all the benefits, exercise is not without risks. But the American Council on Exercise says there are ways to reduce your risks. The most common risk in exercising is injury to the muscles and joints. This usually happens from exercising too hard or for too long, especially if a person has been inactive for some time. (Read about "Avoid Sports Injury") Another potential risk is heat exhaustion or heat stroke (Read about "Heat Stroke") during warm weather, characterized by symptoms such as dizziness, headache, nausea, muscle cramps (Read about "Feet, Ankles and Legs") and high body temperature. These problems can often be avoided by drinking enough fluids to replace those lost during exercise and by avoiding outdoor activities when it's simply too hot outside.
We've all heard, too, of people who have died while exercising. Many times, says NIH, these are people who already had heart problems such as congenital heart defects (Read about "Congenital Heart Defects") or coronary artery disease. People with these conditions should consult their physicians. NIH also says that no studies have shown that physically active people are more likely to have sudden, fatal heart attacks than inactive people.
Some people may want to take extra precautions before starting on an exercise program. For example, AMA says to consult your doctor if you've experienced:
You should also consult a doctor if you're on medication, if you have joint problems or other medical conditions such as diabetes (Read about "Diabetes"), and if you're middle-aged or older and have been very inactive. And keep in mind that overexertion really is not good for anyone, which is why it's usually best to follow a gradual and sound exercise program.
All Concept Communications material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.
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