How Exercise Can Improve Cardiovascular Health

Researchers say higher levels of exercise can boost the benefits to cardiovascular health, but experts say there's a limit to how much you should do.

Experts say that exercise provides a number of health benefits, especially for people with cardiovascular health issues. Tara Moore/Getty Images
  • Researchers say that people with cardiovascular issues can improve their health by increasing the amount of exercise they do.
  • An increase in physical activity is generally beneficial, but experts caution that over-exercising can cause heart-related problems.
  • They recommend that people with cardiovascular health issues talk with their doctor about their exercise routine and gradually increase their amount of physical activity.

It’s no secret that exercise is beneficial for overall health.

Researchers say it can lengthen a person’s lifespan and help lower their risk of non-communicable diseases.

Now, a new study says that exercise is particularly good for those battling cardiovascular health issues, something that researchers say wasn’t so clear previously.

The study looked at data from the population-based cohort of 167,729 individuals living in the northern Netherlands.

The researchers looked at the association between physical activity and serious cardiovascular events as well as mortality of all causes among healthy individuals, those with cardiovascular risk factors, and those with cardiovascular disease.

The researchers said they found that while increasing physical activity helped reduce mortality rates in all groups, the benefits tended to level off above a certain level of activity in healthy people and those with cardiovascular risk factors.

However, among those with cardiovascular disease, the researchers say they found no limit to the benefits from physical activity.

How much exercise?

The researchers pointed out the results were self-reported, so further research is necessary.

However, the study is encouraging for advocates for the “more is better” philosophy of exercise, at least when it comes to those with cardiovascular problems.

“Physical activity recommendations should not follow a ‘one-guideline-fits-all’ approach but underline the need for precision medicine in which physical activity prescription may be dependent, amongst other factors, on an individual’s cardiovascular health status,” Thijs Eijsvogels, PhD, an associate professor at Radboud University in the Netherlands, wrote in the study.

Rami Hashish, PhD, the founder of the National Biomechanics Institute, told Healthline that the study’s conclusions are more thorough, and therefore more reliable, than previous studies that concluded that the risk of developing cardiovascular disease wasn’t necessarily reduced with more exercise.

“These findings are truly groundbreaking as we now know objectively that the more someone exercises, the less likely they are to develop cardiovascular disease,” Dr. Hashish said.

“I would caution against the use of the term ‘ceiling,’ however, as extreme exercise can cause too much stress on the heart and increase the risk of disorders.

“With regards to those with cardiovascular disease, generally moderate intensity exercise is considered safe. In fact, high intensity exercise has proven safe as well when performed in cardiac rehabilitation settings,” Hashish continued.

“But, because everybody — and every heart — responds differently to exercise, to determine the correct exercise prescription, it is imperative to consult with your healthcare professional,” he added.

Some cautionary words

Dr. Evan Jacobs, the national medical director and cardiovascular services chairman of Conviva Care Centers, told Healthline that the study findings may be accurate, but some caution is still warranted.

“We are still expanding our understanding of the effect of high endurance exercise on cardiac events and mortality,” Jacobs said. “There are several studies that suggest high endurance sports, such as marathon running or cross-country skiing, may increase an athlete’s risk for heart rhythm problems or cardiovascular events in U-shaped fashion.

“This means some endurance exercise may be beneficial but too much can be harmful,” he added. “This may be because the large volume of blood supply circulating through the heart during exercise can stretch the heart chambers excessively, resulting in damage.

“Still, other large studies have shown no ceiling to benefits of cardiorespiratory fitness,” Jacobs said. “One large study published by the Cleveland Clinic in 2018 even demonstrated a 30 percent decreased risk of death when comparing high-performing athletes versus elite athletes, suggesting no ceiling to benefit. Research is ongoing to tease out these conflicting conclusions.”

How to exercise

Alicia Pate, PhD, an assistant professor of medical anatomy and physiology at Ponce Health Sciences University Saint Louis in Missouri, told Healthline that people with cardiovascular issues should speak with a doctor before increasing their level of exercise.

“It is important to start slowly and choose a low intensity aerobic activity when beginning, ensuring to appropriately stretch before and after exercise,” Dr. Pate said. “It is important to pace yourself, be aware of your limits, and pay attention to warning signs that exercise is putting too much strain on your heart.”

Pate added it’s especially important for those with cardiovascular issues to self-monitor.

“Be sure to identify your resting heart rate and maximal heart rate… and take your pulse often during exercise to ensure your heart is beating at a safe exercise rate,” she said. “In addition to aerobic exercise, resistance weight training may improve your strength and help muscles work together better, making it easier to do daily activities.

“All things in moderation,” Pate concluded. “Both sedentary lifestyles and extreme exercise have been shown to increase risk of adverse cardiovascular events. Whether you are healthy or have cardiovascular disease, evidence indicates moderate physical activity shows significant health benefits and improved cardiovascular outcomes long term.”

This story originally appeared on: Healthline.com - Author:Tony Hicks