These resources were produced by and in conjunction with Louisa Nielsen, Cardiothoracic and Adult Congenital Heart Physiotherapy Specialist at Southampton General Hospital.
Leading a physically active life is good for almost everyone, whether they have a heart condition or not. There are very few people who are advised not to take part in any physical activities. Regular participation in physical activities can help to:
- lower your blood pressure and help prevent future heart problems
- reduce your cholesterol levels
- control your weight and regulate your appetite
- reduce the risk of diabetes or help to control diabetes
- prevent blood clotting
- relieve stress and anxiety
- enhance your mood and boost confidence
- help you to sleep better
- reduce aches and pains from joints/muscles
- improve the strength of your bones
As we get older, our arteries lose some of their elasticity and become stiffer. This means that the heart has to work harder to pump blood. We also accumulate fatty deposits, called plaques, on the inner surface of the arteries. The formation of fatty plaques is termed ‘atherosclerosis’. This often leads to cardiovascular disease, such as heart attacks and strokes, in later life.
There are several factors that increase the risk of developing atherosclerosis. These include:
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- Family history
- Being overweight or obese
- Leading a sedentary lifestyle, with little physical activity
Some congenital heart conditions may increase the risk of developing atherosclerosis at an earlier age than would normally be expected. Furthermore, people with a pre-existing heart condition may be more vulnerable and harder to treat if cardiovascular disease does occur in later life.
There are several ways in which leading an active lifestyle, with plenty of moderate-intensity physical activity, improves our cardiovascular health:
- reduces high blood pressure
- prevents the arteries from losing their elasticity and becoming stiff
- helps to achieve or maintain a healthy body weight
- removes unhealthy fats from the blood
What’s the difference between exercise and physical activity?
There is a subtle difference between exercise and physical activity, and regular participation in either will help keep you fit and healthy.
Physical activity is movement that is carried out by the skeletal muscles that requires energy. This can include gardening, walking up stairs and housework.
Exercise, however, is planned, structured, repetitive and intentional movement. For example, going on a jog or going to the gym.