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Heart disease and Physical Activity

August 8, 2019

Cardiovascular Disease and Exercise

Cardiovascular disease is a major cause of death in Australia, with 1 in 6 Australians living with cardiovascular disease.  The important thing is that cardiovascular disease is mostly preventable and exercise can lower your risk of having a cardiovascular disease.


What is Cardiovascular disease (CVD)?

But first things first, what is cardiovascular disease? Cardiovascular disease is a term used to describe a disease involving the heart or blood vessels such as a heart attack, stroke, peripheral vascular disease and heart failure. CVD is affected by several factors, some that we cannot change also known as non-modifiable risk factors such as family history and age. The good news is that there are many risk factors that we have the ability to change such as high blood pressure, being sedentary, smoking, diabetes, being overweight or obese and high cholesterol. 

Regular physical activity can lower these modifiable risk factors and therefore lower your risk of cardiovascular disease.  Exercise has been shown to lower blood pressure, cholesterol levels, reduce obesity and improve insulin resistance. Current exercise guidelines suggest a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise every day accumulating to 150-300 minutes per week of aerobic exercise and 2-3 days of resistance exercise. 


Exercise for People with CVD

If you have a cardiovascular condition it is important to ensure you are exercising safely and at the right intensity. To begin exercising it is important that you have clearance from your doctor to ensure you are well enough to exercise. For individuals who have CVD, as recommended by the Heart Foundation, exercises should focus on aerobic exercise such as walking, cycling and swimming at a moderate intensity four to seven times per week . This means that you are getting slightly breathless or “puffy” but are still able to continue a conversation with a friend. When you first start exercising start with short amounts of activity and slowly build up to 30 mins such as going for a short walk.  It has been shown that people who exercise after a heart attack have a 31% lower risk of having another cardiac event compared to those who don’t exercise


This doesn’t mean you have to hit the gym but can be going for a walk with a friend, or joining a cardiac rehabilitation group. If you are unsure of where to exercise consult with your GP who can provide you with several options.  

It is important to remember that if you are experiencing dizziness, difficulty breathing, excessive sweating or have chest pain to stop exercise and see your doctor.  


  1. Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2018, Causes of Death 2017, ABS cat, no. 3303.0.
  2. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2011, ‘Cardiovascular disease: Australian facts,’ Cardiovascular disease series. Cat. no. CVD 53.
  3. Vella CA, Allison MA, Cushman M, Jenny NS, Miles MP, Larsen B, et al, 2017, ‘Physical activity and adiposity-related inflammation’: the MESA. Med Sci Sports Exerc,49:915–21
  4. Hagberg JM, Park JJ, Brown MD, 2000, ‘The role of exercise training in the treatment of hypertension: an update’, Sports Med, 30(3),193–206.
  5. Heart foundation, 2019, ‘Being active when you have a heart condition,’ Heart Foundation, viewed 3 August 2019,
  6. Blumenthal JA, Babyak MA, Carney RM, et al, 2004, ‘Exercise, depression, and mortality after myocardial infarction in the ENRICHED Trial,’ Med Sci Sports Exercise, 36:746-55.

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