The Baby Boomer Heart: Healing Fitness
When it comes to protecting your heart, fitness plays a key role.
If you're convinced that working out is only for the young and buff, there's
something you should know. Mounting research shows that exercise does more than
give you a better shape. It's a key way of protecting your heart.
Fitness is absolutely the most powerful predictor of deaths from heart
disease and other causes, says Rita Redberg, MD, a cardiologist from the
University of California at San Francisco, and the science advisor for the
American Heart Association Choose to Move program.
Indeed, Redberg says folks who exercise routinely have up to a 50% lower
risk of having a heart attack or chest pain, and they have a lower risk of
other diseases as well.
"And, most importantly, people who exercise simply live longer than
people who don't," says Redberg. This, she says, is particularly true for
Likewise, cardiologist Helene Glassberg, MD, tells WebMD that not being
physically fit is the single most important risk factor for heart disease.
"Even if you smoke, your risks are lower if you exercise -- lower than a
nonsmoker who does not exercise," says Glassberg, director of The
Preventive Cardiology and Lipid Center at the Temple University School of
Medicine in Philadelphia.
In fact, a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical
Association found that when it comes to protection from heart disease,
being fit might be more important than being thin, particularly for women. In a
joint project between the University of Florida and Cedars Sinai Medical Center
in Los Angeles, research on some 900 women revealed that those who were at
least moderately active were less likely to develop heart disease and related
illnesses than women who were less active -- regardless of their weight.
And not working out -- at least to your full capacity -- may be extremely
damaging. In a study just released by Rush University Medical Center in
Chicago, research conducted on nearly 6,000 seemingly healthy women found that
those who scored less than 85% of
their target fitness rate on a treadmill stress test were twice as likely
to develop serious heart disease and related death.
Researchers say this study offers the first clear picture of a woman's
fitness-related health risks - and they are high.
How Exercise Helps Your Heart
There are number of obvious heart-healthy benefits to exercise. Usually you
will lose weight, or maintain a lower weight. You'll also usually lower blood
pressure and cholesterol. But experts say exercise directly affects the heart
by keeping blood vessels strong and healthy. Exercise directly improves the
blood vessels' ability to dilate and increase blood flow, says Glassberg. In
addition, she says, regular workouts offer these heart-healthy benefits:
Anticlotting and anti inflammatory effects that lower your risk of a heart
- Reducing heart rate and blood pressure, which reduces demand on the
- If you already have heart disease, exercise can help normalize your heart
rhythm as well as helping your body expand smaller vessels to help keep blood
flowing around an area that is clogged.