Physical Activity and Your Heart
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Physical Activity and Your Heart

Physical Activity and Your Heart Benefits

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Physical activity has many health benefits. These benefits apply to people of all ages, races and ethnicities, and sexes.

For example, physical activity helps you maintain a healthy weight and makes it easier to do daily tasks, such as climbing stairs and shopping.

Physically active adults are at lower risk for depression and declines in cognitive function as they get older. (Cognitive function includes thinking, learning, and judgment skills.) Physically active children and teens may have fewer symptoms of depression than their peers.

Physical activity also lowers your risk for many diseases, such as coronary heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

Physical activity strengthens your heart and improves lung function

When done regularly, moderate- and vigorous-intensity physical activity strengthens your heart muscle. This improves your heart's ability to pump blood to your lungs and throughout your body. As a result, more blood flows to your muscles, and oxygen levels in your blood rise.

Capillaries, your body's tiny blood vessels, also widen. This allows them to deliver more oxygen to your body and carry away waste products.

Physical activity reduces coronary heart disease risk factors

When done regularly, moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity can lower your risk for coronary heart disease. This is a condition in which a waxy substance called plaque builds up inside your coronary arteries. These arteries supply your heart muscle with oxygen-rich blood.

Plaque narrows the arteries and reduces blood flow to your heart muscle. Eventually, an area of plaque can rupture (break open). This causes a blood clot to form on the surface of the plaque.

If the clot becomes large enough, it can mostly or completely block blood flow through a coronary artery. Blocked blood flow to the heart muscle causes a heart attack.

Certain traits, conditions, or habits may raise your risk for coronary heart disease. Physical activity can help control some of these risk factors by:

  • Lowering blood pressure and triglycerides (a type of fat in the blood)
  • Raising HDL (high density lipoproteins) (“good”) cholesterol levels
  • Reducing risk of overweight and obesity, when combined with a reduced-calorie diet
  • Maintaining a healthy weight over time once you have lost weight
  • Helping your body manage blood sugar and insulin levels, which lowers your risk for type 2 diabetes
  • Reducing levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), which is a sign of inflammation and an increased risk of heart disease
  • Possibly helping you quit smoking, which is a major risk factor for heart disease

Inactive people are more likely to develop heart disease than people who are physically active. Studies suggest that inactivity is a major risk factor for heart disease, just like high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, and smoking.

Physical activity reduces heart attack risk

For people who have coronary heart disease, regular aerobic activity helps the heart work better. It also may reduce the risk of a second heart attack in people who already have had heart attacks.

Vigorous aerobic activity may not be safe for people who have heart disease. Ask your doctor what types of activity are safe for you. They can provide more information about recommended physical activities and steps to begin adding physical activity into your routine.

Physical activity can benefit your mental health and quality of life

Physically active adults are at lower risk for declines in cognitive function as they get older. Physically active children, teens, and older adults show improved cognition. Children show improved cognition after one session of physical activity.

Physically active children, teens, and adults are at lower risk for depression than their peers. Physical activity can also decrease feelings of anxiety, and regular activity can reduce long-term feelings and signs of anxiety.

It also makes it easier to do daily tasks, such as climbing stairs and shopping. It can also lead to better sleep and overall quality of life.

Image of PDF tip sheet for getting active
Tip Sheet

Put Your Heart into Getting Active

This 1-page tip sheet offers simple ideas on how to incorporate physical activity into your daily routine.

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