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Exercise and Heart Health

Welcome to the last installment of our exercise series. Exercise and heart health.

We are closing out our exercise series on one of the benefits that people often think about which is cardiovascular health. However, usually the extent of the benefits of “cardio” that people are aware of are limited to keeping the heart muscle healthy. However, exercise has also been shown to improve other factors such as blood cholesterol and risk for heart disease.

Let’s focus first though on how keeping the heart muscle healthy and strong is beneficial for your health. Physical activity, especially in the form of aerobic activities such as running, swimming, etc., helps increase the body’s ability to consume more oxygen, improve the pumping of blood throughout the body which increases oxygen levels, and improves the body’s utilization of the oxygen once it gets there. Oxygen is a very important currency in the body. Without oxygen, the body cannot create the energy that it needs to function properly. Lack of exercise has been associated with inefficient oxygen utilization in body tissues as well as reduced blood flow. Furthermore, maximum blood flow in the body seems to be dependent on age and physical activity. Maximum blood flow is desirable so that you can get blood to all of your body’s tissues so that oxygen can be delivered and waste products cleaned up. This allows us to be able to do our daily activities with less fatigue, effort, and pain than should be expected.

Secondly, exercise helps to improve your blood cholesterol profile. A combination of healthy foods (low in saturated and trans fat and high in omega-3’s and fiber) and exercise can make a big difference in decreasing your risk for heart disease. We are going to focus on the physical activity aspect though. For a quick refresher, remember that LDL is the “bad” cholesterol because it deposits lipids in your blood vessels which increases your risk for heart disease. HDL is the “good” cholesterol because it picks up cholesterol from your blood vessels and takes it back to the liver.
There are several proposed reasons by which we see an overall improvement of blood cholesterol in individuals who complete regular aerobic exercise. The first reason is an increased consumption of the lipids in the blood for energy. Another reason is an increase in an enzyme called lipoprotein lipase (LPL) which takes triglycerides out of the blood to be used in the cell or stored or used for energy.

Here are some tips for incorporating exercises into your life to improve heart health:
– High-impact aerobic exercise: running, walking, tennis, or other sports are great forms of exercise to get your heart rate up and get those benefits from cardio. 
– Low-impact aerobic exercise: swimming and biking are great forms of exercise that provide less impact on your bones and joints, and can cause less injuries while still giving you the same benefits.
– Strength training: using free weights, resistance bands, or just your body with exercises such as squats, push-ups, planks, etc. helps to increase muscle strength, reduce excess fat, and also contributes to improving blood cholesterol.

All this being said, there are some factors relating to risk for heart disease that are uncontrollable such as genetics or your age. You could do all the right things and still find yourself with cardiovascular issues in the future. Still, you can only do what you can with what you know now. You might think that it’s too late to try and make changes like these in your life, but it’s not! Decide today to make a change! Make sure to talk to your doctor before making a change though! 


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