Exercising regularly is a key strategy in preventing heart disease. But the story doesn’t end there. A growing number of statistics link physical activity and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.

The American Heart Association (AHA) notes that regular exercise leads to heart-healthy habits that can counter conditions like obesity, high blood pressure, and poor cholesterol levels, which can cause heart attack and stroke. Use these findings to inspire you to keep up an active lifestyle, with guidance from your doctor.

Aging, Exercise, and Heart Disease

In general, as people age, they become less physically active. According to the AHA, nearly 40 percent of people over age 55 report participating in no leisure exercise. Yet, as we become older, we need more regular exercise, not less. The AHA notes that 65 percent of all adults are obese or overweight and the number continues to increase.

The National Center for Health Statistics found that in 2010, about one in three adults who had visited a doctor in the past year had been advised to start or continue an exercise program. That’s an increase of about 10 percent from 2000. Older adults (in their mid-forties to their mid-eighties) were more likely to be advised by their physicians to exercise. Among adults aged 85 and over, the percentage receiving advice to exercise nearly doubled over the past decade. Those with conditions like cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure also were told to exercise more.

Physical activity helps prevent bone loss, increase muscle strength, and improve coordination and balance. Additionally, studies have shown that increased levels of physical activity reduce the risk of many aging-related diseases, including cardiovascular disease. Findings from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that for people with heart disease, exercise can reduce the risk of:

  • dying from heart disease
  • having a non-fatal heart attack
  • requiring procedures such as heart bypass surgery or angioplasty

And for people without heart disease, regular exercise can decrease the chance of developing it.

Physical Fitness Lowers Heart Disease Risk

The CDC reports that heart disease is the number one cause of death for both men and women in the United States. Every year, close to 800,000 Americans have a first heart attack and 470,000 who have already experienced a heart attack have a repeat event.

CDC figures show physical inactivity as the top heart disease risk factor, which 53 percent of U.S. adults report. The percentage of inactive people is higher than the percentage of people with other risk factors associated with heart disease, such as obesity (34 percent) and high blood pressure (32 percent). In fact, less than 20 percent of adults meet the Physical Activity Guidelines for both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activity, the CDC states.

Regular physical activity can lower your blood pressure and improve your cholesterol levels. According to the AHA, becoming more active can lower your blood pressure by as much as four to nine mm Hg, which compares to the reduction many blood pressure medications.

The AHA also reports that active people with high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, and chronic diseases like heart disease are less likely to die prematurely than inactive people with these conditions.

Research published in the journal Circulation in 2011 found that improved fitness over a six-year study period was associated with a 19 percent decreased risk of heart disease and stroke-related deaths in men—and a 15 percent lower risk of death from any cause.

In fact, the study found that maintaining or improving physical fitness was linked with decreased risk of mortality—even when study participants’ body weight didn’t change. According to the AHA, studies with women show a reduction in heart disease risk as high as 30 to 40 percent.

What You Can Do

Ready to get moving? Check with your doctor about starting an exercise program if you have risk factors for heart disease or have had a previous heart attack or cardiovascular event. The AHA recommends 30 minutes of moderate exercise per day, five days a week. Three 10-minute sessions during the day are almost as beneficial as a half-hour session. To reap the benefits associated with exercise—improved blood circulation, better cholesterol levels, lowered blood pressure, and reduced risk of heart disease—that’s 30 minutes worth taking.