Getting active is one of the most important parts in managing and preventing heart disease as a sedentary lifestyle doubles your risk of dying from the illness. This is comparable to the increased risk you'd have if you smoked, had high cholesterol or high blood pressure.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada estimates that 80% of premature heart disease and stroke can be prevented with behaviours such as eating healthy, being active and living smoke-free.

Being active can help you stop, slow down or reverse heart disease, and you don’t need to be an elite athlete to do it. Even moderate exercise 150 minutes a week or vigorous exercise 75 minutes a week has heart health benefits. This can be 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week. Don’t have 30 minutes to spare? Try breaking your exercise into 2 -3 segments of 10 – 15 minutes.

How does exercise affect your heart?

Your heart is a muscle and like any other muscle in your body, it gets stronger when you work out. Just as exercise strengthens other muscles in your body, it helps your heart muscle become more efficient and better able to pump blood throughout your body. This means that the heart pushes out more blood with each beat, allowing it to beat slower and keep your blood pressure under control.

When you exercise regularly the chambers of your heart expand better, allowing them to fill with more blood. Your heart pumps more efficiently, more powerfully and more blood is pumped to your muscles.

Moderate activity gets your heart beating faster, makes you break a sweat and breathe harder – you should be able to talk but not sing. Moderate aerobic movement includes activities such as:

  • brisk walking
  • dancing
  • swimming
  • hiking

Vigorous activity is something that makes you breathe harder or puff and pant. It includes activities such as:

  • running
  • walking or climbing briskly up a hill
  • fast cycling
  • fast swimming

Just getting started? Go slow and work your way up gradually. Try incorporating physical activity into your everyday life. Park further away from work or take a walk at lunch. It’s important to pick activities that you enjoy so you will be more likely to stick with them.

NOTE: Always check with your healthcare provider before beginning any physical activity program.

This article was written by Mark Ikin,
 BSc. Exercise Science, BComm, CAT(C), CSCS.

Marc started his career over 20 years ago as an amateur sports coach in hockey and soccer; from there he followed his passion for health and fitness into a career as a Personal Trainer with GoodLife Fitness.

Along the way he has worked with many clients with varying special needs (hip and knee replacement, MS, Parkinson’s, cardiovascular disease, spinal fusions) as well as with a variety of client populations (youth, pregnancy, senior and athlete).

Currently as the GoodLife Personal Training Institute Operations Manager, Marc oversees the development, training and certification of their new Personal Trainers as well as manages a team of instructors who deliver various training programs across Canada.