The skinny on cardiovascular health
What would you do if you had a heart attack? Would you change your lifestyle? Seek cardiac rehabilitation?
According to Professor Jack Goodman at the Faculty of Physical Education and Health and adjunct scientist at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, only 20 per cent of people who require cardiac rehabilitation programs actually take part in them.
“No question: exercise intervention is important to patients with heart disease,” said Goodman. “Exercise and organized programs are well established but access remains a problem. More funding and research is needed to determine what the barriers are to cardiac rehab.”
Cardiovascular disease was once considered a man’s disease but now more women are likely to die of a heart attack than men.
Goodman said there are several factors that contribute to this. For instance, women live longer lives and have unique heart health factors, such as the role estrogen plays in protecting the heart — until menopause, when women become more vulnerable to heart disease.
Although they are equally susceptible to heart disease, there was a time when women’s symptoms were either misdiagnosed or overlooked because it was thought they experienced different cardiac symptoms than men.
“In the 1970s and 80s cardiovascular care was essentially a boys club,” said Goodman. But gender has not been the only bias when it comes to cardiac care and research. There are certain ethnic groups that are more susceptible to cardiovascular disease than the general Canadian population.
According to The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, South Asian Canadians are more likely to die from a heart attack earlier than the general population and First Nations members are 1.5 to two times more likely to develop heart disease than the general Canadian population.
Although medical care and research is becoming more sensitive to the complexity of the cardiovascular disease population, there is one thing that remains unchanged. The primary recommendation for preventing a heart attack remains lifestyle management
“Vigorous physical activity will reduce the risk of a heart attack by 20 to 40 per cent in some individuals,” said Goodman.
We’ve heard it before: prevention is the best medicine. Many of us know we could do a better job of monitoring our diets and exercise routines, but what is the optimal amount of exercise?
Goodman said the risk factors for heart disease are directly affected by the amount of exercise performed. In other words, a little bit of exercise gives you a little bit of risk reduction and more exercise will reduce the risk of a heart attack even further.
“This is not anecdotal. There have been many studies that show physical inactivity is the most powerful predictor for cardiovascular problems,” he added.
For Goodman, an exercise program is best approached with a long-range outlook. “What you do in your 30s or 40s will have a tremendous benefit for you later in life.”
Goodman said light exercise is fine to maintain weight but if you want to remain active into your 60s and onward, vigorous exercise is better.
“Exercise should give you the capacity to remain active throughout your life,” said Goodman.
The difference between the two comes down to the body’s ability to consume and deliver oxygen to muscles and cells. If we increase or maintain our bodies’ capacity for oxygen through aerobic activity then we will increase our ability to perform daily tasks such as climbing stairs or mowing the lawn later in life.