Exercise is a foundational part of a healthy lifestyle. A regular routine of physical activity has many benefits, including the prevention of heart attacks and strokes. How does exercise prevent heart disease?

Raises good cholesterol (HDL)

HDL levels are an important indicator of health. This cholesterol acts as a sort of “street sweeper” in your bloodstream, removing fatty plaque from the arterial walls. When this level is too low, blockage can occur, which can lead to strokes and heart attacks. Higher HDL levels keep this from occurring. A Japanese study found that exercising at least 3-4 times per week for at least 20 minutes (but ideally 40) increases your HDL. They also determined that the length of your exercise session is more important than intensity for raising HDL.

Reduces bad cholesterol (LDL)

LDL decreases as the body becomes more efficient at moving it from the bloodstream to the liver where it’s able to be excreted from the body or turned into bile to help digestion. The more efficient your body becomes at excreting LDL, the less it causes problems in the arteries around the heart. Exercise stimulates the enzymes needed to make this process happen, so ultimately plays a significant role in the prevention of heart disease. 

Helps maintain a healthy weight

Contrary to common belief, exercise is not effective at helping people lose weight in and of itself. Weight loss is a byproduct of the combination of better eating habits and regular physical activity. Exercise is very impactful to cardiovascular health, however, and it also increases the number of calories your body burns each day. As your metabolism improves, your body stops storing excess fat around crucial organs, including the heart, which is another way exercise prevents heart disease. 

Lowers blood pressure

Regular exercise builds a stronger heart. Like the other muscles in your body, the more you challenge it the stronger it gets. By increasing the intensity of your exercise and elevating your heart rate, your heart becomes more efficient at distributing blood and oxygen to the rest of your body. Lower blood pressure is the result of the heart pumping more blood with less effort. Exercise prevents heart disease by improving the heart’s efficiency and reducing it’s workload.  

Controls blood sugar levels

Exercise is fueled by glucose. When you exercise, your body burns the extra sugar in your body more efficiently and more quickly. As a result, elevated blood sugar levels are kept at bay as your body burns glucose instead of storing it. It also makes the insulin in your body work better. Some research suggests that high intensity interval training (HIIT) is best at controlling blood sugar levels and is the optimal exercise to prevent heart disease. But any exercise is better than no exercise as long as your heart rate is elevated during your workout.

Exercise prevents heart disease by raising good cholesterol, lowering bad cholesterol, helping with weight maintenance, lowering blood pressure, and controlling blood sugar levels. Elevations in any of these areas can increase your risk of metabolic syndrome and potentially heart disease along with it. Regular exercise is a preventative measure with positive outcomes on cardiovascular health.