Exercise has a number of effects that benefit the heart and circulation (blood flow throughout the body). These benefits include improving cholesterol and fat levels, reducing inflammation in the arteries, helping weight loss programs, and helping to keep blood vessels flexible and open. Studies continue to show that physical activity and avoiding high-fat foods are the two most successful means of reaching and maintaining heart-healthy levels of fitness and weight.
The American Heart Association recommends that individuals perform moderately-intense exercise for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week. This recommendation supports similar exercise guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the American College of Sports Medicine.
Coronary Artery Disease. People who maintain an active lifestyle have a 45% lower risk of developing heart disease than do sedentary people. Experts have been attempting to define how much exercise is needed to produce heart benefits. Beneficial changes in cholesterol and lipid levels, including lower LDL ("bad" cholesterol) levels, occur even when people performed low amounts of moderate- or high-intensity exercise, such as walking or jogging 12 miles a week. However, more intense exercise is required to significantly change cholesterol levels, notably increasing HDL ("good" cholesterol). An example of this kind of intense program would be jogging about 20 miles a week. Benefits occur even with very modest weight loss, suggesting that overweight people who have trouble losing pounds can still achieve considerable heart benefits by exercising.
Some studies suggest that for the greatest heart protection, it is not the duration of a single exercise session that counts but the total weekly amount of energy expended. Resistance (weight) training has also been associated with heart protection. It may offer a complementary benefit to aerobics. If you have heart disease or risk factors for heart disease, check with your doctor before starting resistance training.
Effects of Exercise on Blood Pressure. Regular exercise helps keep arteries elastic (flexible), even in older people. This, in turn, ensures good blood flow and normal blood pressure. Sedentary people have a 35% greater risk of developing high blood pressure than physically active people do.
ssure as effectively as moderate-intensity exercise. In one study, moderate exercise (jogging 2 miles a day) controlled high blood pressure so well that more than half the patients who had been taking drugs for the condition were able to discontinue their medication.
Experts recommend at least 30 minutes of exercise on most -- if not all -- days. Studies show that yoga and tai chi, an ancient Chinese exercise involving slow, relaxing movements, may lower blood pressure almost as well as moderate-intensity aerobic exercises.