Exercise is crucial in reducing the risk of coronary artery disease. Here’s why.

Seema, a 38-year-old housewife, was determined to join the gym. Of late, she’d noticed that the kilos seemed to be coming on though she was watching her diet. Seema was asked to fill out a health history form by the fitness consultant at the gym and her blood pressure was measured. She was shocked to find that her blood pressure was higher than normal. Further investigations revealed that her lipid profile was also high. Seema, who felt just fine, was diagnosed with the ‘metabolic syndrome’ and told that she was at an increased risk for developing heart disease.

What increases risk for coronary artery disease?

‘Atherosclerosis’ is the process underlying the development of coronary artery disease. It is the build up of ‘plaques’ or blocks within arteries. Factors hastening the process are the risk factors for the development of CAD.

Does exercise help cut risk of CAD?

Exercise has a role to play in cutting risk for CAD. Adequate physical activity, reducing obesity and waist-girth size, achieving a favourable lipid profile, blood pressure control and optimising glucose control can all be attributed to a sensible dose of exercise. Exercise may also contribute to ignoring the call of nicotine.

How much is enough exercise?

A minimum of 30 minutes of ‘moderate intensity ‘physical activity on at least three but preferably most days of the week constitutes ‘enough’ exercise. This should be a regular pattern for at least three months. Otherwise, you are sedentary! The volume of exercise is determined by the frequency, intensity, time or duration and type.

Is cardiovascular exercise enough to counteract risk factors for CAD?

A judicious mix of all the three classes of exercise is required to tackle the risk factors for heart disease. Cardiovascular exercise takes precedence over the other types but without musculoskeletal conditioning and flexibility, overall health is not achieved. Mind and body techniques have a special role to play as well by controlling mental and neurological factors. But start an exercise programme only after you have been medically cleared by your physician.

What about people already diagnosed with CAD? Should they exercise?

People being treated for CAD should exercise under their physician’s guidance. Those who have undergone a cardiac procedure are also required to exercise. Often they begin in the hospital setting as the first phase of cardiac rehabilitation. If the procedure was prior to a heart attack, chances are they will regain better functioning of the heart.

Persons who have suffered an attack may exercise depending on the extent of damage to the heart muscle. Certain flexibility and mind and body techniques can be carried out safely.

Apart from physical conditioning, exercise also helps in stress reduction, which is a crucial factor in the development of CAD. The importance of exercise in a population predisposed to heart disease cannot be undermined.

The writer is Technical Director, BFY Sports and Fitness, Mumbai, and a firm proponent of education in fitness.