Exercise Physiology and Cardiovascular Disease

Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) are the leading cause of death globally, taking an estimated 17.9 million lives each year. One in six Australians self-report as living with CVD, accounting for more than 4 million Australians. CVDs are a group of disorders of the heart and blood vessels and include coronary heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, rheumatic heart disease and other conditions.

Coronary Heart Disease

The coronary arteries around the heart supply oxygen and nutrients to the heart muscle. Coronary heart disease (CHD), also known as coronary artery disease (CAD), is a disorder in which there is insufficient blood being delivered to the heart muscle. CHD is almost always due to fatty deposits in the blood vessel which causes narrowing of the blood vessels over time.

In 2020–21, an estimated 571,000 adult Australians had CHD, which is 2.9% of the adult population. There are estimates that 6% of CHD worldwide is due to a lack of physical activity or exercise. In 2020, CHD was the leading single cause of death in Australia, accounting for 16,600 deaths. This represents 10% of all deaths, and 41% of cardiovascular disease deaths

Cerebrovascular Disease

Cerebrovascular disease refers to a group of conditions that affect blood flow and the blood vessels in the brain. Problems with blood flow may occur from blood vessels narrowing, clot formation, artery blockage, or blood vessel rupture.

Cerebrovascular disease was the 5th leading cause of premature death in Australia in. 2010–2012. Most cases of cerebrovascular death are due to stroke.

Rheumatic Heart Disease

Rheumatic heart disease (RHD) is a condition that develops when the heart valves are damaged by rheumatic fever. RHD reduces the ability of the heart to pump blood effectively around the body, leading to symptoms such as shortness of breath after physical activity, fatigue and weakness. Severe forms can result in serious incapacity or death. It is also entirely manageable and preventable.

How does exercise affect cardiovascular disease?

Evidence shows that regular exercise appears similarly effective in comparison to many drug interventions, without the side effects they may produce. 

In people with cardiovascular disease, the benefits of physical activity far outweigh the risks. Exercise physiologists can provide professional guidance on lifestyle modifications and help individuals take control back over their health by providing individualised programs related to cardiovascular health. 

Regular moderate-intensity exercise has many benefits for people with CHD including:

  • Prevent the blood vessels from narrowing further
  • Prevents blood clotting
  • Helps deliver blood to the heart
  • Helps to maintain a normal heart rhythm
  • Improve physical function
  • Improve psychological wellbeing
  • Improve cardiometabolic parameters – favourable changes in blood pressure, HDL cholesterol and insulin sensitivity

These changes reduce the load on the heart at rest and during exercise, which helps to lessen some of the symptoms as well as decrease the risk of death from CVD.

Are exercises safe for people with CVD?

Both aerobic and resistance training are safe for people with CVD, as long as they are assessed by a health professional and the training program is tailored to their needs. With a suitable exercise prescription, people can expect to manage or even reduce the disease load; improve quality of life; and reduce the risk of a secondary heart event.

Exercise prescription should take into account the individual’s medical and exercise history, and aim to achieve the individual’s fitness and health goals.

The Accredited Exercise Physiologists at Unique Physio are skilled in exercise assessment and prescription especially for patients with chronic conditions. They are experienced and qualified to prescribe and oversee exercise programs for these individuals.

What are the exercise recommendations?

Aerobic Exercise

The word aerobic means “with oxygen”. Aerobic or ‘cardio’ exercise improves the body’s ability to use oxygen to produce energy for movement. During aerobic exercise, your blood pumps quickly throughout your body and your lungs take in more oxygen. This improves our cardiorespiratory fitness and energy levels.

Exercise recommendations for CVD state 30-60 minutes per day, on 3-5 days per week, of moderate-intensity exercise (which means exercise that feels like a moderate level of difficulty e.g. vigorous walking). The total may be completed in shorter sessions of 5-10 minutes and accumulated throughout the day.

Resistance Training

Strength is often compromised in patients with CVD, causing a reduction in physical function, loss of balance and muscle wasting. Hence, resistance (weight) training should be incorporated with aerobic exercise training to improve physical strength needed for activities of daily living such as housework, gardening, cooking etc. Resistance training should be performed 2–3 days per week and including exercises that target all major muscle groups.

Consult an accredited exercise physiologist from UniquePhysio to determine how to safely and effective exercise.

3 Tips on How to Start Your Exercise Journey

There are three common negative messages that you may be telling yourself:

  1. “I do not have time to do the recommended exercises”

It is understandable that life can catch up to us and we will have work and family commitments. How we can tackle this problem is by:

  1. Writing out the schedule for the week
  2. Fill up the day with your errands and activities with time stamps including work, picking up the kids, dinner with friends
  • Notice where there are gaps in your schedule – plan an exercise or activity during this time
  1. Create an achievable goal for the week e.g. walk the dog for 30mins twice this week

2.  “I am too tired to exercise”

Exercise does not always have to be exhausting and challenging. It can also be refreshing and energising but that can look different for everyone.

  1. Choose a form of exercise that you enjoy – this can be walking, Pilates, yoga, going to the gym
  2. Start slow and low – use the tips above to fit this into your schedule
  • Increase intensity and difficult once the exercise becomes easy or comfortable
  1. “Exercise is not safe since I have CVD and it might worsen my condition”

For people with CVD, it is best to consult a health professional for an individualised program. However, every day activities such as walking, climbing stairs are safe to do, as long as they are usually tolerable for you.

How we can help?

Our services include 1-on-1 exercise physiology treatment with one of our accredited exercise physiologists. During the initial consultation, a subjective and physical assessment will be completed, thereby, providing the exercise physiologist with information to design a specific exercise program that will help achieve your goals.

Book in for a free initial exercise physiology assessment today online!

For further information, please do not hesitate to contact us via 9709 2803 or via e-mail [email protected]

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