Predisposed to heart disease? Exercise is the best way to prevent cardiac problems

If your family has a history of heart disease, the best way to protect yourself from cardiac problems is to exercise, according to recent research. The study, which was published in Circulation, the journal of the American Heart Association, found that greater grip strength, more physical activity, and cardiorespiratory fitness reduced the risk of heart problems, even to those predisposed to heart disease.

Researchers at Stanford University and Uppsala University looked at the effect of exercise on people who are predisposed to heart disease. They analyzed the data of 482,702 individuals, aged 40 to 69, from the U.K. Biobank. At the beginning of the study, the participants did not have any evidence of heart disease. They completed the International Physical Activity Questionnaire to evaluate their self-reported exercise. In addition, wrist-worn accelerometers, hand dynamometers, and submaximal exercise treadmills were used for objective measures. Moreover, 468,095 participants had genome-wide genetic data. The age, gender, ethnicity, region, socioeconomic status, diabetes, smoking, systolic blood pressure, body mass index, and use of lipid medications were also considered. The researchers also followed-up with the participants, in which 200,914 reported cardiovascular events, such as heart attacks, strokes, atrial fibrillation, and heart failure.

Results revealed that the risk of heart attacks and stroke decreased with greater grip strength, more physical activity, and cardiorespiratory fitness, even in those who are predisposed to heart disease.

Participants with an intermediate genetic risk for heart disease, but had the strongest grips had a 36 percent lower risk of developing coronary heart disease, and a 46 percent lower risk for atrial fibrillation than those with the same genetic risk but with the weakest grips. Those with a high genetic risk for heart disease, but had high levels of cardiorespiratory fitness were 49 percent less likely to develop coronary heart disease, and 60 percent less likely to develop atrial fibrillation than those with low cardiorespiratory fitness. (Related: Exercise beats heart disease, even if started late in life.)

The findings of the study indicated that even if an individual has a high genetic risk for cardiovascular diseases, being physically active lowers their risk. Erik Ingelsson, the lead author of the study and a professor of Medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine in California, suggested that discussing a physical activity plan with a healthcare provider would be helpful.

Heart-friendly exercises

It is known that exercise is good for your health. According to the American Heart Association, just 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise on most days of the week provides maximal health protection. If you cannot exercise for 30 minutes straight, it is fine to break it up into three 10-minute sessions or two 15-minute sessions. One of the best exercises for the heart is aerobic exercise. It enhances heart and lung fitness and can affect a lot of the risk factors for heart disease. Aerobic activities involve the use of large muscles in a continuous, rhythmical manner over time. Here are some ways to incorporate aerobic exercises into your daily life:

  • Take a walk – Walking is the most common and simplest aerobic exercise you can try. It is enjoyable, safe, and inexpensive. In addition, it is easy to fit into almost anyone’s busy schedule. You can walk going to work, to the grocery store, or around the neighborhood.
  • Climb the stairs – For optimal heart health benefit from any exercise, aim to reach between 50 and 85 percent of your maximum heart rate. Climbing the stairs is an easy way to achieve this target range. This can be done at home or the gym on a stair machine.
  • Ride a bike – Biking is a great exercise for the heart because of the pumping motion of the large muscles in the legs.
  • Go for a swim – Swimming for two and a half hours each week will provide you all the aerobic heart health benefits you need.
  • Groove to the music – Dancing is a rhythmic and aerobic exercise routine – around 120 to 135 beats per minute is considered a good aerobic beat.

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