Exercise and the Risk of Cardiovascular Disease

By Leon Frazin, Cardiologist

Ever since it was noticed over 50 years ago that conductors on public transportation systems lived longer than the bus drivers, there has been an interest in whether or not physical activity has anything to do with longevity. Conductors are walking throughout the day while bus drivers are sedentary.

It is now 2004, and after many studies, there is no doubt that regular physical activity prolongs life. Regular exercise has been proven to reduce all risk factors for cardiovascular disease. These include high blood pressure, diabetes mellitus, high cholesterol, obesity, and stress. Regular exercise also has been shown to reduce blood clots in the arteries, although the mechanism is not clear.

There are a number of opinions as to what regular exercise really means. One definition says that a person should exercise enough each week so that 2000 calories are burned off or utilized. Since a one mile walk for an average person burns about 120 calories, 2000 calories per week seems hard to achieve.

All information supports the 2000 number but actually achieving less than that is probably important. It has been stated that exercising for 20 minutes 3 times each week is enough to reduce cardiovascular risk factors.

Exercises that burn calories include just plain walking, running and jogging, biking, swimming, tennis, racquetball, rowing, and roller-skating. Lifting weights is not a big calorie burner.

If you are over age 40 a stress test is recommended to determine whether or not exercise can be performed safely. The stress test will evaluate the possible presence of coronary disease, and if abnormal may indicate the need for further diagnostic tests and treatment. A stress test will also more precisely inform you of the best range of exercise heart rate which is usually about 120.

Regular exercise is a stress relieving habit, which requires time and persistence to achieve. It usually requires at least 6 months or longer of routine exercise, and then it becomes a physical and psychological necessity. A sense of well-being occurs which appears to be related to hormones which are released by the brain. Once a person has reached that point the difficult part is over. Individuals who exercise regularly are known to eat healthier foods and stop smoking.