Most powerful weapon against heart disease? Daily exercise

This article is sponsored by Adventist Health Care

Every 43 seconds someone in the United States suffers a heart attack, according to the American Heart Association.

Want to reduce your risk? One of the most powerful weapons against heart disease does not come from a medicine bottle—it’s a dose of daily exercise.

Geetha Pinto, MD, FACC, a cardiologist with Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Center, warns that people who have sedentary jobs appear to have a higher risk of heart attacks than those with mild to moderate physical activity as part of their occupation.

She explains that physical exercise naturally reduces many risk factors for heart attacks. “Exercise decreases bad cholesterol and increases good cholesterol. It reduces blood pressure and promotes weight loss. It decreases insulin resistance.”

An active lifestyle also decreases your risk of diabetes and keeps your arteries healthy.
“When you exercise, you decrease risk factors that contribute to plaque buildup in arteries especially those that supply blood to the heart. A decrease in plaque buildup leads to a decrease in heart attacks,” says Pinto. Plaque is a combination of cholesterol, fat and other substances that get deposited into the walls of arteries.

Katy Smith, a certified exercise physiologist at Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Center, says that for many people, exercise is a “natural way to decrease hypertension or blood pressure, without having to take medication.”

Smith helps heart patients develop personalized fitness programs at Shady Grove’s Center for Fitness and Health.

“The heart is a muscle. You want to use it,” advises Smith. “The more exercise you do for it, the more it keeps your overall body healthy.”

How much exercise do you need? The American College of Sports Medicine recommends about 45 minutes of exercise per day, five to six days a week, at a moderate intensity.

If you don’t have that much time, break it up. Do 10 minute intervals of higher intensity exercise, three times a day. “You’ll get the same cardiovascular benefits,” says Smith.

Both Smith and Pinto suggest talking to your doctor to find the right workout program.

Also, consider these exercise tips:

• Pick an activity that you enjoy. (walking, biking, dancing, swimming, gardening)
• Join a fitness club or running group.
• Work out at home. (Walk up and down steps. Use a treadmill and hand weights. Follow along with exercise videos.)
• Exercise with friends or family members to make it fun.

Finally, mark your exercise schedule on the calendar, just as you would any other appointment.

“We’ve found that if people don’t plan it into their day, it will get pushed to the back burner,” says Smith. “And before they know it, their day is over.”

Cardiologists say that making a commitment to reduce your risk of heart disease is well worth the effort.

“I can tell you that my physically active patients are doing much better in all ways,” says Pinto. “They sleep better. They make better food choices. They have less depression. It’s a pathway for an overall healthier life.”

Learn your heart age and risk of heart disease. During February, take Adventist HealthCare’s FREE online heart risk assessment for a chance to win a weekend getaway for two to the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay or gift cards to Copper Canyon Grill. Visit to learn more or to take the FREE risk assessment.  

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