Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States in men and women. A number of factors increase the risk of developing heart disease including tobacco use, diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Another risk factor which has received less media attention is physical inactivity.
Lack of physical activity, or a sedentary lifestyle, has been associated with increased risk of developing diabetes, obesity, hypertension and heart disease.
Engaging in aerobic physical activity 30 minutes per day most days of the week, as recommended by the Joint National Committee on Treatment of High Blood Pressure, has been shown to lower blood pressure by up to 9 mm Hg. Therefore, exercise is as effective as some blood pressure medications at lowering blood pressure.
The benefits of exercise extend beyond the heart and regular exercise has been associated with a decrease in stroke and memory impairment. Exercise is also recommended for the treatment of depression, fatigue, arthritis and osteoporosis.
Additionally, the immune system, diabetes and some sleep disorders respond favorably to exercise.
According to the American Heart Association, studies have shown for every hour of walking, life expectancy may increase by two hours.
Though more exercise yields greater benefit, it has been recommended healthy adults assume an exercise regimen of at least 30 minutes per day.
The method of exercise is not important and examples include bicycling, jogging, weightlifting or walking at a brisk pace. Adequate exercise should increase rate of breathing and lead to mild fatigue and sweating.
For more information about starting an exercise program, visit www.startwalkingnow.org or see a physician. A physical exam by a physician, however, is not necessary to begin an exercise regimen for those without symptoms or medical conditions.