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Physical Activity Helps Prevent a Heart Attack and Stroke

British Columbia Specific Information

Physical activity has so many benefits to your health. It can help you get to and stay at a healthy body weight, reduce the risk of bone fractures if you have osteoporosis, and can reduce the risk of many other illnesses like cancer and heart disease. For most people, participating in physical activity is safe. However, some people should check with their health care provider or a qualified exercise professional before they start becoming more physically active.

For information on the benefits of physical activity, setting goals and overcoming barriers, as well as safety tips and precautions, visit the Physical Activity section of our website.

If you have questions about physical activity or exercise, call 8-1-1 to speak to a qualified exercise professional, Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm Pacific Time, or you can Email Physical Activity Services. You can also leave a message after hours.

Topic Overview

Physical activity is one of the best things you can do to help prevent a heart attack and stroke.

Being active is one part of a heart-healthy lifestyle. Eating healthy foods, not smoking, reducing stress, and staying at a healthy weight are other ways you can be heart-healthy and help prevent a heart attack or a stroke.

If you are not active, you have a higher risk of heart disease (also called coronary artery disease).

It's never too early or too late to make physical activity part of your life. If you are healthy, it can help you keep your heart as healthy as possible. If you have had a heart attack or stroke, being active is very important to help prevent another one.

Being active is good for the heart

Being active helps keep your heart and blood vessels healthy in many ways. It can:

  • Raise "good" (HDL) cholesterol levels.
  • Help you lose weight or stay at a healthy weight.
  • Lower blood pressure.
  • Control blood sugar.

Regular activity might also help your heart if you do have a heart attack. It may increase the number of smaller blood vessels that connect different coronary arteries. These are called collateral blood vessels. If one of the major coronary arteries is suddenly blocked, these collateral blood vessels serve as an alternate route to supply blood to the portion of the heart muscle that is threatened by a heart attack.

Activity has other benefits

Being active does more than just keep your heart healthy. It keeps your body and mind healthy too.

The added benefits of regular exercise include:

  • Mental well-being and stress relief.
  • Increased flexibility, if stretching is done afterwards.
  • Increased bone strength, if the exercise includes weight-bearing exercises, such as jogging or lifting weights.

Make sure your heart is ready for you to move more

Talk to your doctor or a Qualified Exercise Professional (QEP) before you start being active. This is very important if you have been diagnosed with coronary artery disease; you haven't been active for a long time; or you have other heart, lung, or metabolic diseases, such as diabetes.

Your doctor or QEP can help you choose activities that will help your heart and are safe for you.

Many activities are heart-healthy

Being more active doesn't have to be hard. Any activity that raises your heart rate can help your heart. Do something you enjoy, such as walking, cycling, skating, or dancing.

To get and stay healthy, do activity at a level that is right for you. Experts say to do either of these things for at least 2½ hours a week:footnote 1

  • Moderate activity, such as brisk walking, brisk cycling, or ballroom dancing. But any activities—including daily chores—that raise your heart rate can be included. You notice your heart beating faster with this kind of activity.
  • Vigorous activity, such as jogging, cycling fast, or cross-country skiing. You breathe rapidly and your heart beats much faster with this kind of activity.

To lower your risk, some experts suggest that you be active for 10 minutes or longer at a time. Aerobic exercise (brisk walking, jogging, swimming, bicycling) is best.

Ask for help to make healthy lifestyle changes

Tell your doctor if you are having trouble making activity part of your daily life. Your doctor might refer you to a counsellor who specializes in helping people make lifestyle changes.

Health Tools

Health Tools help you make wise health decisions or take action to improve your health.

Actionsets are designed to help people take an active role in managing a health condition.

References

Citations

  1. Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (2011). Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines For Adults. Available online: http://www.csep.ca/CMFiles/Guidelines/CSEP_PAGuidelines_adults_en.pdf. Accessed October 28, 2014.
  2. Eckel RH, et al. (2013). 2013 AHA/ACC guideline on lifestyle management to reduce cardiovascular risk: A report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines. Circulation. http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/early/2013/11/11/01.cir.0000437740.48606.d1.citation. Accessed December 5, 2013.

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Adaptation Date: 9/23/2021

Adapted By: HealthLink BC

Adaptation Reviewed By: HealthLink BC