The cardiovascular system (often called the circulatory system) is responsible for our blood flow. Using a network of arteries, veins and capillaries, this system moves blood from the heart to other parts of the body.
This article will discuss cardiovascular disease and physical activity with a focus on how exercise reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease.
A Little More on Cardiovascular Disease
Cardiovascular disease is a term used to describe conditions affecting heart function such as angina, stroke, heart attack, heart failure and more. It is important to understand that damaged cardiovascular systems can lead to other health conditions, such as diabetes. According to WHO, cardiovascular diseases account for 32% of all deaths, making it the leading cause of death with over 17.9 million people dying each year across the globe.
Heart attack and strokes are two of the most common causes of death. This is a significant number considering that the majority of cases could have been prevented by fostering healthier lifestyle habits. Physical inactivity, smoking and unhealthy diets are some of the main causes of cardiovascular diseases.
It is important to detect cardiovascular disease at an early stage; however, prevention is even more vital.
Main Causes & Prevention
Some potential causes of cardiovascular disease include:
- High blood pressure
- High blood cholesterol
- Being overweight
- Physical inactivity
Poor lifestyle choices are the main cause of cardiovascular diseases. Being physically active can greatly reduce the risks of developing them.
There are other risk factors such as stress, alcohol, hormonal imbalances and certain medications.¹ Fortunately, most of the factors can be controlled and improved with simple lifestyle changes.
Below you will find easy and practical advice on how to reduce your risks of developing cardiovascular diseases.
Step 1: Evaluating Your Current Situation
It is very important to be aware of your cardiovascular health. You should be aware of your weight, body fat percentage; and you should also pay attention to the quality of your diet, the type of exercise you do (or don't do), etc. These factors have a huge impact on the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases.
It is crucial to take control of your weight, to have a healthy diet and to get regular exercise. Doing so will tremendously reduce your risks of developing heart disease, stroke or other serious cardiovascular disorders.
Also, it is useful to research any medications you are taking. It is very important to know if they can affect the cardiovascular system.
Here's a list for you to go through in order to easily evaluate your current situation:
- How much physical activity are you getting on a daily basis? (ie. 30 minutes of moderate to fast walking)
- What is your weight, and how has this changed over time? (Yearly increases, ie. 5 pounds per year)
- What is your body fat percentage? (A simple way of finding out is to check excessive fat around your waist, arms, face or legs. Additionally, many pharmacists and gyms have equipment that can provide these measurements for you)
- What is your diet like? (Are you eating seasonal vegetables on a daily basis? How much of processed food is in your diet? Do you consume more than 3 units of alcohol weekly?)
- Are you taking any medication that has an influence on the cardiovascular system? (Ask your doctor about this)
- Does your job put you at risk of experiencing high levels of strain, stress, exhaustion, or other factors that can affect the cardiovascular system negatively?
- Are there any other risk factors that you should be aware of? (ie. sleeping too little or sleeping too much)
Step 2: How to Get Started Towards a Healthier Cardiovascular Health
Exercise is one of the best ways to prevent cardiovascular disease.² It is very important to incorporate some form of physical activity into your daily routine. If you aren't used to doing exercise, it can be something as simple as walking 30 minutes to 1 hour each day.
Try to exercise 3-4 times a week for 30 minutes at least. It will make a difference.
Below you will find a list of exercises that you can start doing today:
1) Brisk Walking
Brisk walking is one of the BEST cardiovascular exercises as it involves all major muscle groups as well as the heart. It is also an excellent form of exercise for beginners, and is gentle on joints.
This is a good alternative to brisk walking, as it involves the same muscles on the legs and abdomen and works out the cardiovascular system. 3 to 4 times a week for 30 minutes is optimal.
The bike helps the cardiovascular, respiratory and muscular system. Cycling is an excellent exercise for beginners as well as advanced athletes.
It is especially important for people with heart problems to swim as it does not put any strain on the heart and it's a way of reducing high blood pressure. For enthusiasts, aqua-aerobics is a good way of getting fit as it involves most muscles in the body as well as being a lot of fun.
Don't be put off by the sound of this. You can easily do it at home and you don't really need heavy weights. You can start by using your own body weight or even water bottles.
Yoga is not only a way of getting fit, but can also reduce stress which in turn can greatly reduce the risks of cardiovascular disease. It is also very beneficial for people with chronic pain or other injuries.
This works all the muscles in the body as well as releases tension and improves balance.
Stretching exercises are vital for good health as they help to prevent injury and can improve muscle flexibility.
An example of a ‘Typical’ Week for Healthy Cardiovascular Function
- Monday - 30 minutes brisk walking or jogging
- Tuesday - Strength workout body weight OR 30 minutes cycling OR 30 minutes swimming
- Wednesday - 30 minutes brisk walking or similar (hiking, incline walking or cardiovascular machine at the gym such as an elliptical machine or rowing)
- Thursday - Strength workout using resistance (resistance bands, water bottles or your own weight)
- Friday - Pilates, Yoga or Stretching
- Saturday - 30 minutes to 1 hour walk
- Sunday - 30 minutes to 1 hour walk
This is just an example, but you should take the above as guidance and consider your own physical abilities. For example, if you are a beginner, you could decrease the intensity of the exercises above, or reduce their frequency.
If you have never really exercised before, 150 minutes a week of brisk walking would be a wonderful start. Remember, the concepts of heart health are about being active!
Some other ideas for you to think about are:
A great way of reducing stress and improving cardiovascular health is to do some outdoor work such as gardening, without even realising you're exercising.
Consider walking to the shops instead of driving.
- Go for a walk with your pet
Pets are great for reducing stress and improving cardiovascular health. They can help keep an exercise routine, and can act as a social activity also by meeting up with friends.
- Playing with the kids
Playing with your kids is not only fun but it is a great way of practising physical activity for yourself.
- Take the stairs
Take the stairs when you can. It keeps you moving and it is such a simple way to keep the cardiovascular system working!
- Enjoying nature
Get out into the countryside every now and then to enjoy nature.
The above are just some ideas and suggestions for you to take into consideration.
Some people are also of the opinion that taking up meditation, relaxation techniques and other mind-body therapies may help reduce strain on the cardiovascular system.
Healthy cardiovascular function is vital for a good, active life. If you are looking to keep your heart and cardiovascular system working at an optimum level this week, try and incorporate some of the above suggestions into your daily routine. At the very least we hope we have made you think about how important it is to look after your heart and cardiovascular system.
This information is for general purposes only and does not constitute advice, diagnosis or treatment of any kind. Always consult a qualified medical professional before making changes to your diet, drug use or physical activity regime.
- Piano MR. Alcohol's Effects on the Cardiovascular System. Alcohol Res. 2017;38(2):219-241.
- Wu NN, Tian H, Chen P, Wang D, Ren J, Zhang Y. Physical Exercise and Selective Autophagy: Benefit and Risk on Cardiovascular Health. Cells. 2019;8(11):1436.