February is heart health month, and it’s a good opportunity to review two important lifestyle factors that can improve our heart health: exercising and quitting smoking.
The literature shows that physical activity has a beneficial effect on cardiovascular disease and longevity. Physical inactivity on the other hand is a significant health problem worldwide, especially in developed countries. It has been estimated that about 12 percent of all mortality in the U.S. is related to the absence of regular physical activity and that physical inactivity doubles the risk of coronary events.
Although there are risks associated with exercise, the benefits far outweigh the risks for most people. Musculoskeletal injury is the most common risk of exercise. Less common risks include sudden cardiac arrest, arrhythmias and heart attacks. There is no single exercise prescription for all people. The American Heart Association provides a list of contraindications for exercise training.
Several health benefits are associated with exercise. Those include a decreased risk of coronary artery disease, mortality, stroke, obesity and certain cancers. Exercise is a successful therapy for people with symptoms from stable peripheral vascular disease, such as pain in the legs with walking.
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Exercise helps improve blood sugar control in diabetes, decrease blood pressure and improve blood lipid levels. It can help reduce stress, tension, depression and anxiety. It also can help those trying to quit smoking.
And speaking of smoking, the importance for people to quit cannot be stressed enough. Although nicotine is addictive, smoking can be prevented. In fact, cigarette smoking is the highest preventable cause of mortality.
On average, smokers die 14 years earlier than nonsmokers. Each year, smoking is responsible for almost 6 million deaths around the world. In the U.S. it is responsible for 443,000 deaths every year, through diseases such as lung cancer, chronic obstructive lung disease (COPD) and heart and vascular disease.
Smoking nearly doubles the risk of stroke. Cigarette smoking doubles to triples the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease. The incidence of heart attack is increased six times in women and three times in men who smoke at least 20 cigarettes per day, compared to people who never smoked.
One half of all smokers will die prematurely from consequences of tobacco abuse, which is a principal contributor to the development of coronary artery disease, sudden cardiac death, heart failure and acute myocardial infarction.
On the other hand, after quitting smoking, most of the cardiovascular risk from smoking decreases within the first two years. By three to five years after quitting, the risk for cardiovascular events is the same as for a nonsmoker.
Quitting smoking has both immediate and long-term health benefits. Most smokers make many attempts to quit before they are successful.
Now may be a good time to try.