The Heart Benefits of Casual Exercise


You don’t have to be a professional athlete to prevent health risk factors seen in people with cardiovascular disease.

A new study to be published in the Journal of Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation and Prevention shows that even low physical fitness – up to 20 percent below the average for healthy people – is beneficial.

“This is great news for people with heart disease who have difficulty adhering to a regular – mainly aerobic – exercise program,” said Daniel Curnier, in a press release. “Small improvements in their fitness level are enough. You don’t have to be a great athlete to benefit from these effects.”

The study included 205 male participants and 44 females with heart disease. The participants used a stationary bike stress test to determine fitness levels.

Curnier, a professor at the University of Montreal’s Department of Kinesiology in Canada, led the study. The press release added that one reason behind an increase of risk factors could be because of changes in the way we live today. Maxime Caru, a doctoral student in human kinetics at UdeM and lead author of the study, said the team focused on what kind of physical condition is necessary to prevent heart risk factors.

“We know from many studies that good physical fitness reduces cardiovascular mortality, and that physical activity has a positive impact on cardiovascular risk factors following a rehab program,” Caru said. “However, the impact of physical fitness level on risk factors has remained an open question. That is why our research team asked the following question: ‘Is good physical condition required to produce a preventive effect on these cardiovascular risk factors?’”

Industrialization was one suggested cause as to why humans have become “sedentary” over time. Abdominal circumference, depression, diabetes, dyslipidemia, hypertension, obesity, excess weight, smoking and physical inactivity were all cited as increased risk factors for developing heart disease.

“It is common to meet people entering a cardiac rehab centre who are totally out of shape and whose exercise is irregular or non-existent, which has a harmful effect on general and cardiovascular health,” Caru said.

Heart disease is a leading cause of death in the world, claiming 31 percent of global mortality. The research team said the easiest way to improve heart health is to exercise for at least two and a half hours a week, in line with the recommendations of the World Health Organization.

Depression, a risk factor mentioned in the research, is considered to be significant for patients with cardiovascular disease because cardiac patients who have experienced a depressive episode tend to have recurring heart problems.

The study’s findings demonstrated the importance of a good fitness level, before and after a heart attack, to produce the preventative effect on depression.

The researchers also said cardiac patients should ask their doctor and consult a kinesiologist before beginning an exercise program.

“Only these professionals are able to know which type of exercise is safe for your condition and how to implement an exercise program,” the authors said.