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Heart Health Center

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Exercise and the Risk of Coronary Artery Disease

Lack of exercise is a risk factor for developing coronary artery disease (CAD). Lack of physical activity can indirectly increase the risk of CAD, because it also increases the risk for diabetes and high blood pressure. Regular physical activity can help reduce your risk of CAD by helping you control cholesterol and blood pressure, regulate blood sugar (important for people with diabetes), and lose weight or stay at a healthy weight.

Regular exercise is essential not only for preventing CAD but also for improving your overall heart health.

It also is possible that regular physical activity increases the number of smaller blood vessels that connect different coronary arteries. If one of the major coronary arteries is suddenly blocked, these collateral blood vessels serve as an alternate route to supply blood to the portion of the heart muscle threatened by a heart attack.

  • Exercise doesn't have to be difficult. Any activity that raises your heart rate can be considered exercise, such as walking, cycling, swimming, or dancing.
  • Try to do moderate activity at least 2½ hours a week. Or try to do vigorous activity at least 1¼ hours a week.1 To lower your risk, try to exercise for an average of 40 minutes during each exercise session. Try to do this at least 3 or 4 times a week.2
  • Talk to your doctor before you start an exercise program if you have been diagnosed with coronary artery disease; have been sedentary for a long period of time; or have other heart, lung, or metabolic diseases, such as diabetes.
  • Report any angina symptoms, such as chest pain or pressure, or shortness of breath, to your doctor immediately.

Citations

  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2008). 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (ODPHP Publication No. U0036). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. Available online: http://www.health.gov/paguidelines/guidelines/default.aspx.

  2. Eckel RH, et al. (2013). 2013 AHA/ACC guideline on lifestyle management to reduce cardiovascular risk: A report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines. Circulation. http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/early/2013/11/11/01.cir.0000437740.48606.d1.citation. Accessed December 5, 2013.

Other Works Consulted

  • Eckel RH, et al. (2013). 2013 AHA/ACC guideline on lifestyle management to reduce cardiovascular risk: A report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines. Circulation. http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/early/2013/11/11/01.cir.0000437740.48606.d1.citation. Accessed December 5, 2013.

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerRakesh K. Pai, MD, FACC - Cardiology, Electrophysiology
Specialist Medical ReviewerJohn A. McPherson, MD, FACC, FSCAI - Cardiology

Current as ofSeptember 24, 2014

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: September 24, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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