What is cardiovascular health?
Cardiovascular health relates to the health of the heart and blood vessels. Cardiovascular disease (CVD), is a general term for conditions that affect these parts of the body. CVD includes all heart and circulatory diseases, including coronary heart disease, angina, heart attack, congenital heart disease, hypertension, stroke and vascular dementia.
CVD occurs when there is a gradual build-up of fatty deposits within the body's artery walls. These fatty deposits cause a narrowing in the artery and restrict the flow of blood to the heart.
Why is physical activity important for cardiovascular health?
Cardiovascular disease is one of the main causes of death and disability in the UK, but it can often largely be prevented by leading a healthy, active lifestyle.
If you don't exercise regularly, it's more likely that you'll have high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels and be overweight. All of these are risk factors for CVD. Keeping physically active helps to keep the cardiovascular system healthy and when combined with a healthy diet, also helps you to maintain a healthy weight. Here are just some of the benefits physical activity can have on cardiovascular health:
- It helps improve your heart health and heart function (it gets more efficient at sending blood around your body to the areas that need it most)
- It helps to decrease the amount of harmful cholesterol in your body
- It helps to lower your blood pressure
- It helps to improve blood flow around your body
- It helps to improve the way your body reacts to insulin
How much physical activity should you be doing?
If you're looking to keep your cardiovascular system healthy and reduce your risk of CVD through physical activity, you should aim to take part in the recommended amount of physical activity for your age group, as outlined in the UK Chief Medical Officer's Physical Activity Guidelines.
For adults aged 19 and over, the recommended amount is at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity per week. Where possible, this should be a combination of cardiovascular, strength, flexibility and balance exercises. These could include:
- Cardiovascular activities - brisk walking, cycling, swimming, dancing
- Strength activities - resistance training, Yoga, Nordic Walking, carrying heavy shopping, heavy gardening
- Balance/mobility - Yoga, Pilates, Tai Chi, body balance classes
However, there are lots of different ways that you can incorporate physical activity into your daily routine and every little bit of movement can make a big difference. Here are some ideas about how to make physical activity part of your day-to-day life:
- Try to break periods of sitting as often as possible
- If you sit at a desk or screen all day, try some chair-based exercises
- Do some gardening or housework
- Take regular breaks at work to stand up and move around e.g. get a glass of water
- Walk part of your journey to work if you can
- When you go to the work or the shops, try parking at a further car parking space
To find out more information about how physical activity can help you to maintain a healthy cardiovascular system, visit the British Heart Foundation website.