The role of physical activity in the prevention of heart attacks and strokes – Anna Lewandowska

A healthy lifestyle is not only about balanced meals, the right amount of sleep or avoiding stress and addictions. If you wanted to create a healthy lifestyle pyramid, physical activity would be at the heart of it. You all know that exercise is health. There is evidence of this as well. According to data from Eurostat (European Statistical Office), in Europe, we most often die from ischemic heart disease and cerebrovascular diseaseswhich include myocardial infarctions and strokes.

Where did such sad results come from?

The main risk factors for the development of the above-mentioned diseases are: overweight, abdominal obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, lack of regular exercise and alcohol abuse.

One of the basic methods of fighting most of the listed causes that can lead to illness is exercise. You know that in addition to diet, activity increases energy demand and allows you to reduce body weight, helps to regulate blood pressure and glucose levels, reduces insulin resistance and improves blood circulation.

Coronary heart disease with heart attacks is the most common cause of death in Poland. Unfortunately, it affects younger and younger people. Do not wait, go for a walk, and if you have children, shape their sports habits. The pandemic and the lack of PE classes take a huge toll in the form of overweight and obesity in the youngest, and this is a greater risk of heart attack and stroke in adulthood.

People with coronary artery disease often suffer from poor exercise tolerance, which may be related to other diseases, e.g. lung diseases, anemia, obesity or poor physical condition. If you have risk factors or you feel tired quickly during exercise, I recommend consulting your family doctor or cardiologist.

As recent events show, when during the match one of the players of the Danish national football team lost consciousness, fell to the pitch and, as it turned out later, he suffered a heart attack, it is worth researching, because health problems are often difficult to notice and may affect each of you.

Another disease mentioned is stroke, defined as sudden ischemia of the central nervous system or a hemorrhage causing a neurological deficit. Common complications are all kinds of disabilities that require specialist treatment and rehabilitation. Stroke can also be fatal. Here, there is often no threatening symptoms, which is why, similarly to coronary artery disease, prophylaxis and regular diagnostics are the basis. Who of you does a complete set of basic research at least once a year?

How can I protect myself from heart attacks and strokes?

Prevention is the key word. It is nothing more than increasing people’s awareness and involving them in the activity of introducing a healthy lifestyle. The main goals of prevention are: physical activity, changing eating habits and fighting addictions (smoking, alcohol).

We will focus today on physical activity. In the literature, we can find many studies showing how important movement is in the context of health. You all know the WHO recommendations on the recommended amount 10,000 steps a day. According to the latest research of Harvard scientists, healthy people who take more than 4,400 steps a day have a lower risk of death compared to the less active group. The risk decreases with increasing activity to 7,500 steps and then stabilizes.

Does that mean you don’t have to chase like that to protect yourself from disease? Not the way. The European Society of Cardiology recommends that at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week or at least 75 minutes of high-intensity exercise per weekO that’s the minimum you should bring into your life. Experts emphasize that gradually increasing the time we spend on aerobic effort (e.g. cycling, running, Nordic walking, fast walks, swimming) brings an additional benefit. Each training session should last at least 10 minutes and the recommended frequency is a minimum of four sessions per week, with daily activity being promoted.

Another study by Dr. Esmée Bakker of Radboud University Medical Center in Nijmegen showed that active people with risk factors such as hypertension, high cholesterol or diabetes who had reduced their activity increased their risk of cardiovascular disease and death by 40%. Increasing the level of activity from moderate to higher reduced the risk by 30% compared to those who remained active.

Regardless of whether you are healthy or you have risk factors, to reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes, you should increase your physical activity. Too small dose of exercise will not cause physiological effects, while excessive effort that will not be adapted to your age, health condition and capabilities can be even harmful.

Are you not very active?

Start with walking, climbing stairs, jogging, and regular exercise such as yoga, gymnastics, skipping rope, cycling, swimming.

Initial training should be moderate-intensity endurance efforts (up to 60-75% of the maximum heart rate HRmax – below you will find the formula how to calculate them). The use of increasingly popular watches with pulse measurement and a pedometer will be helpful here. It is worth introducing elements of strength exercises in addition to the activities, which should constitute 10 to 15% of the training volume. It is worth starting each session A 5-10 minute warm-up, and finish with a dozen or so minutes silencing exercises.

Formulas for calculating maximum heart rate according to Sally Edwards:

  • For women = 210 – 0.5 x age – 0.022 x weight [kg]
  • For men = 210 – 0.5 x age – 0.022 x weight [kg] + 4

Summary

Low levels of physical activity increase the risk of heart attack, stroke and cardiovascular death. The popular and true phrase “you are what you eat” could get its “active” face and sound like “you are as healthy as you move around”. I hope that I convinced you to be more active. Let this text not be a scarecrow, but a solid portion of motivation! Remember that exercise is not only a beautiful body, but what is another popular saying: “in a healthy body, a healthy mind” and this is what I wish you 🙂

Bibliography:

  1. Bielecka W. Cardiovascular diseases as a challenge for health promotion. Life and Medical Sciences: Nutrition, sport and health. IPKIN. Lublin 2018
  2. I-Min L, Eric JS, Masamitsu K. Association of Step Volume and Intensity With All-Cause Mortality in Older Women. Intern Med. 2019; 179(8):1105-1112
  3. Jegier A, Stasiołek D. Motor activity in the primary prevention of ischemic heart disease. Cardiol foil. 2004; vol 11, supl. A, A46 – A48
  4. Wernecki P. The role of physical activity in the prevention of heart attacks and strokes; April 20, 2021