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Heart Disease and Exercise – The Maladies Series Continues With A No Brainer


April 2012

I’ve been holding back on this post to get some to of the more surprising diseases first, take Type 2 Diabetes or Alzheimer’s as examples.  While it may be surprising to some to learn that exercise can put off or stop the onset of both diseases, everyone knows the benefits of exercise when it comes to heart disease.  This doesn’t mean there isn’t some interesting information out there that isn’t so well known…and that’s why I am writing this post.

The Mayo Clinic published a list of five “medication-free strategies to help prevent heart disease”.  The obvious number one on that list is don’t smoke.  Number two is exercise daily, before eating a healthy diet.  Number four is maintain a healthy weight, which includes this gem that I’m certain will send shock waves throughout the internet:  “The BMI [Body Mass Index] is a good, but imperfect guide. Muscle weighs more than fat, for instance, and women and men who are very muscular and physically fit can have high BMIs without added health risks”.  That’s just according to the Mayo Clinic.  If you go by what the American Heart Association says, “Surprisingly, an individual’s fitness level was a more important predictor of death than established risk factors such as smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. This study, along with others, underscores the fact that fitness and daily activity levels have a strong influence on the incidence of heart disease and overall mortality”.  According to the following bar graph, the greatest gains in mortality rates are going from a sedentary life style to a moderately active lifestyle (Bar 1 to Bar 2) and this is stated in the linked article as such, but call me crazy but I’m liking the gap from 1 to 4 a lot better, but that’s just me.  If, however you are over 45 years of age and have two of the following risk factors:  “immediate family member with heart disease before age 55, cigarette smoking, high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol levels, diabetes, sedentary lifestyle, or obesity” you should absolutely talk with your doctor before starting an exercise program.  I would highly recommend this meeting just on the basis that it would be fun to watch a doctor do a cart-wheel in his office, but that’s just me.

Another surprising stat from the American Heart Association is as follows (I’m going to quote it because I can’t say it any more simply and the quote is a whole is important):

What Are the Risks of Exercise?

During exercise, there is a transient increase in the risk of having a cardiac-related complication (for example, a heart attack or serious heart rhythm disorder). However, this risk is extremely small. For adults without existing heart disease, the risk of a cardiac event or complication ranges between 1 in 400,000–800,000 hours of exercise. For patients with existing heart disease, an event can occur an average of once in 62,000 hours.2,3 Importantly, the risk of a cardiac event is significantly lower among regular exercisers. Evidence suggests that a sedentary person’s risk is nearly 50 times higher than the risk for a person who exercises about 5 times per week. Stated simply, individuals who exercise regularly are much less likely to experience a problem during exercise. Moreover, contrary to popular view, the majority of heart attacks (approximately 90%) occur in the resting state, not during physical activity”. [ED Emphasis on 90% is mine].



  1. ksmahoney says:

    Love this post. It;s amazing that fitness, independent of body weight, can have such a significant impact on health outcomes. I did my Ph.D. in ex phys at USC, where Steve Blair is currently teaching, and I heard him state many times that its better to be fat and fit than to be thin and sedentary
    Sara from

  2. Forrest says:

    And exercise is good for mental health, too. Cycling, especially, or when compared to running, anyway, is joyful. It brings happiness into a person’s life, and that’s good for something. Exercise outdoors is probably the best cure for depression, which is an ironic catch-22 because depressed people mostly refuse to get out and exercise.

    I’ve heard that cycling is a fountain of youth. 😀

    • bgddyjim says:

      One of my first posts in this series was on depression. My running buddies and I used to talk about it a lot as we cruised down the road, you can only imagine how shocked I was that we were not only right, but exercise was even better than we thought in fighting depression.

      • Dr. James Johnson says:

        Depression in men is pandemic, but men tend to stuff their feelings way down and don’t have as accessible support network to deal with it. I suffered deep, dark-place depression and cycling saved me. But like Forrest Gump and running, I just wanted o ride and keep riding away for my problems. All told, exercise is a great antidepressant.

    • Dr. James Johnson says:

      For me it is. Runners may run for that dose of endorphins to undo the pain of running. Cycling is just fun even when it hurts… And you get the endorphins to boot. Win-win in my view.

      • bgddyjim says:

        You have a great couple of points there… I’m the same way about cycling.

        I do experience a better endorphin charge after running, or maybe ‘more intense’ would be a better choice.

        Thank you.

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