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Physical Activity

It has now been established that physical inactivity is a major contributing factor to heart disease. Other heart risk factors such as high blood pressure, low levels of the good High Density Lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol and being overweight are aggravated by being physically inactive. The greatest benefit from physical activity is seen in people who formerly did no activity and then start to do gently activities such as walking, cycling and swimming.

What is the importance of physical activity? 
The more activity people do, the greater their capacity for exercise. By regularly doing aerobic activities such as walking swimming and cycling, people can increase well being and physical conditioning. Physical activity also plays a role in both the primary and secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease. This may result from the benefits of exercise in reducing blood pressure, controlling blood cholesterol levels, improving the bodies ability to clear glucose and thus improving glucose control in diabetes. Physical activity also helps with weight reduction and encourages people in their efforts to quit smoking.

Exercise is a key component in the cardiac rehabilitation programme for patients who have had heart attacks, angioplasty and bypass surgery.

What are the benefits of physical activity?

  • Aerobic exercise has specific benefits for the heart as it makes the heart work more efficiently during exercise and at rest. Brisk walking, skipping, jogging, bicycling, cross-country skiing and dancing are examples of aerobic exercises that increase endurance capacity.
  • Improves flexibility and builds muscle.

How do I get fitter? 
There are many programmes which improve physical fitness. They all take account of the frequency of exercise (how often), intensity (how hard you work), and the time taken to exercise. This is often referred to as the FIT formula.
The FIT Formula:
F = frequency (days per week)
I = intensity (how hard, e.g., easy, moderate, vigorous) or percent of heart rate
T = time (amount for each session or day)

How much should you do?
In healthy people, the recommended amount of exercise is 30 minutes of brisk activity on most preferably every day of the week at 50-75 percent of maximum heart rate. Moderate intensity physical activities for 30 minutes on most days also provides benefit. Physical activity need not be strenuous to bring health benefits. What is important is to include activity as part of the regular routine.

Regular Activities which are especially beneficial

  • brisk walking, hiking, stair-climbing, aerobic exercise.
  • jogging, running, bicycling, rowing and swimming.
  • activities such as football, hurling and basketball that include continuous running

The training effects of such exercises are most apparent at intensities that exceed 50% of a person’s exercise capacity (maximum heart rate). Adults who maintain a regular routine of physical activity of longer duration or greater intensity are likely to have greater benefits. However, physical activity should not be overdone, since too much exercise can result in injury.

For people who are not able to exercise vigorously or who are sedentary:
Moderate-intensity activities, have long-term health benefits. They help lower the risk of heart diseases. These activities include

  • walking for pleasure, gardening.
  • house work, dancing and prescribed home exercise.
  • recreational activities such as tennis, soccer, basketball.

Does exercise have other benefits? 
In addition to the benefits of exercise on heart disease risk factors, exercise helps build healthy bones, muscles and joints, and reduces the risk of colon cancer. It also brings psychological benefits by reducing depression and anxiety and improves well-being.

Should I ask my doctor about exercise? 
If you suffer from one of the following complaints, it is best to consult your doctor before proceeding with an exercise program.

  • Heart disease.
  • If you get chest pains with activities especially if it has occurred in the last month.
  • Are prone to loose consciousness or get very dizzy.
  • Extreme shortness of breath after activities.
  • Your blood pressure is not adequately controlled (This may require a stress test to ensure your blood pressure does not get too high during activities).
  • Bone or joint problems that could be made worse by activity.
  • Insulin-dependent diabetes which is not properly controlled
  • Planning to vigorously exercise after a long period of inactivity

If you have not got any of the above mentioned problems or have got your doctors approval, you should start by doing a gradually increasing, sensible programme of exercise that suits you. If problems arise like those listed above contact your doctor.