The Physical Benefits of Exercise in Protecting you from Heart Disease, Hypertension and Stroke

Heart disease, hypertension, and stroke are all examples of cardiovascular disorders, and exercise protects against all three, and the physical benefits of exercise in protecting you from heart disease, hypertension and stroke are as below:

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the America. Nearly twenty-six hundred Americans die of heart disease each day—that's one death every thirty-four seconds. And that's just the tip of the iceberg, since more than seventy million American adults have some form of cardiovascular disease, including thirteen million with coronary artery disease.

Faced with a near epidemic of coronary artery disease, researchers have identified a series of factors that increase risk. People can't do anything about three risk factors: having relatives with heart disease, being male, and growing older all indicate vulnerability. But other cardiac risk factors can be modified to help prevent heart attacks. Physical inactivity is one of the strongest harbingers of trouble. Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have calculated that sedentary folks are nearly twice as likely to suffer heart attacks as physically active people. Exercise is the only remedy for inactivity, but can it also help correct other risk factors? In the case of seven of the nine remaining major factors, the answer is yes, and the researchers also found that bus drivers who sat behind the wheel all day were 30 percent more likely to develop heart disease than the conductors, whose work kept them walking the aisles and climbing the stairs.

Blood pressure seems mysterious to many people, and high blood pressure is a major heart attack risk factor. Actually blood pressure is really very simple. Your blood pressure is the force that propels blood through your arteries, and it depends on two factors: the strength of your heart's pumping action and the resistance in your body's arteries. Blood pressure readings seem no less obscure, but they are actually just as straightforward. Your doctor will measure two pressures with each blood pressure check. The higher number is your systolic blood pressure, the pressure in your arteries while your heart is actually pumping blood. But after each beat, your heart muscle relaxes and fills with blood to prime the pump for the next beat. Your diastolic blood pressure is the pressure in your arteries in the interval between heartbeats; it is the lower of the two readings. By convention, the systolic pressure is given first. For example, if your systolic blood pressure is 120 and your diastolic is 80, your doctor will tell you your reading is 120 over 80 and will record it in your chart as 120/80.

Doctors have been monitoring blood pressures for more than a century. It didn't take long for them to realize that hypertension is a major cause of heart attacks, strokes, and kidney failure. Even so, three very important factors about blood pressure did not emerge until very recently. First, there is no "normal" blood pressure; instead, the risk of disease is continuously related to blood pressure across the entire range. Put simply, the higher your blood pressure, the higher your risk. Second, both your systolic and diastolic blood pressures are important. Finally, new studies show that the risk of heart attacks and strokes begins to rise with systolic pressures above 115, a reading that was long considered low normal.

When you exercise, your blood pressure goes up. But it comes down afterward, and many studies show that exercise training helps keep it down. The magnitude of benefit ranges from small to large in various studies, averaging perhaps a five-point drop in blood pressure. That may not seem like much, but it's enough to reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke by 10 to 15 percent— without medication. And some studies even show that moderate exercise is better at lowering blood pressure than intense exercise.

Hypertension is an important disease in its own right, causing many cases of stroke and kidney failure and contributing to mental deterioration and visual impairment in many patients. About sixty-five million Americans, nearly one of every three adults, have hypertension, about fifty-nine million others have prehypertension, and around forty-seven thousand of us will die from high blood pressure every year in America, but the good news is that regular exercise can help prevent and treat high blood pressure. Exercise opens blood vessels, improves the arteries' ability to relax, lowers levels of stress hormones (such as adrenaline), and produces changes in hormones that govern the body's salt metabolism. The pressure-lowering effects of exercise are sustained for many hours after exercise, and people who maintain regular exercise schedules will continue to enjoy this benefit for many years. In addition, moderate exercise turns out to be at least as good as intense exertion. In some studies, in fact, less is actually more; for example, a nine-month trial of exercise in patients who had hypertension found that moderate exercise lowered average diastolic pressures by a very impressive 20 mm Hg (millimeters of mercury, the standard unit of blood pressure measurements), while intense exercise produced a drop of only 8 mm Hg. Hypertension is one of the many things that make No Sweat exercise right for you, remember that lower is better—and that regular exercise will help keep your pressure down.

Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the United States. About 700,000 Americans will have a stroke this year. Some 163,000 of those will die as a result, and countless others will suffer major long-term disabilities. Stroke and heart disease have much in common. Hypertension is a major cause of both, and many of the other heart disease risk factors also increase the risk of stroke. Since exercise protects against heart disease and high blood pressure, it should reduce the risk of stroke.

As compared to those who are sedentary, people who are physically active are about 34 percent less likely to suffer from strokes caused by bleeding into the brain and are about 21 percent less likely to have strokes caused by arterial blockages. And in the case of heart disease and high blood pressure, moderate physical exercise is very effective. In a Harvard study of 72,488 nurses, for example, walking was linked to a 34 percent reduction in stroke.
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