Physical Inactivity and Heart Disease

Physical activity is defined as any bodily movement that expends calories. Cardiovascular activity is any aerobic activity that raises the heart rate to 50% to 85% of its maximum and requires additional intake of oxygen. Maximum heart rate is determined using the formula 220 – age. Physical activity benefits everyone, at any age. Regular physical activity decreases the risk of coronary artery disease because it makes the coronary arteries wider and more flexible. The heart muscle, like other muscles in the body, becomes bigger, stronger, and a more efficient pump. It can circulate the same amount of blood in fewer beats, and this translates to a lower risk for heart attack and stroke. With increased and prolonged physical activity, the entire circulatory system proliferates; capillaries develop deep into the muscle tissue, which allows oxygen to readily reach all cells body more quickly and efficiently.

The risk of developing obesity, coronary artery disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and other chronic or fatal illnesses is lowered by regular physical activity. In terms of mental health, physical activity has been proven to reduce anxiety, depression, and stress as well as improve energy level, mood, sleep, and general sense of well-being. Physical benefits include stronger bones, muscles, and joints. Individuals with a healthy level of physical activity look better and have higher self-esteem. Further, physically active individuals have lower direct medical expenses when compared with inactive people. If all Americans became physically active, the annual potential savings is estimated at 76 billion dollars.

Moderate Physical Activity
Moderate physical activity is defined as an activity that expends approximately 150 calories per day or 1,000 calories per week. Examples of moderate intensity activities include:
• 15 minutes of jumping rope, shoveling snow, climbing stairs, or running 1.5 miles
• 30 minutes of water aerobics, walking 2 miles, bicycling 5 miles, or playing continuous basketball
• 30-40 minutes of pushing self in a manual wheelchair
• 45 minutes of playing volleyball

Before beginning any exercise program, visit with your doctor to determine your activities, goals, and limitations. Becoming physically active does not mean joining an expensive gym or athletic club. Choose a variety of enjoyable and convenient activities, incorporate them into your daily routine, and join others to exercise together for added motivation and encouragement. Exercising at about the same time each day helps to establish a routine.

The American Heart Association suggests using the FIT (Frequency – Intensity – Time) formula to establish a higher level of physical fitness.

F = frequency or days of the week, which should be 5-7
I = intensity, which should be 50% to 85% of your maximum heart rate
T = time, which should be a total accumulation of 30 to 60 minutes per day

Health professionals recommend a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate activity on most days of the week. The 30 minutes of activity does not need to be continuous and can be broken down into two or three sessions. Be careful about overdoing it, especially when beginning a new activity, because muscle strain, soreness, or injury can occur and slow down progress toward a physical fitness goal.

More than 60% of American adults do not engage in the recommended amount of physical activity. Women, older people, people of minority or ethnic groups, and children get less physical activity than men, young people, and Caucasians. Declining daily enrollment in physical education classes together with increased use of computers and television have contributed to the sharp rise in childhood obesity.


Minneapolis Heart Foundation
American Heart Association
The National Women’s Health Information Center
National Heart Lung and Blood Institute