Understanding Physical Activity

Heart and circulatory diseases kill 1 in 4 people in the UK, with a lack of physical activity being one of the primary causes. It’s a hard-hitting but real stat!

The British Heart Foundation (BHF) have therefore pulled together a leaflet for people at risk of heart and circulatory diseases because they are not active enough. Risk is increased by being overweight, having high cholesterol, having high blood pressure or Type 2 diabetes. Getting your body moving is one important way to improve your heart (and overall) health.

As the leaflet explains, getting healthy doesn’t require you to become the next Chris Froome, or to spend hours each day in a gym. Regular trips undertaken on foot or by bike can have a significant impact on your overall health!

What are heart and circulatory diseases?

Heart and circulatory diseases include conditions such as angina, heart attacks, strokes and vascular dementia. Being inactive can lead to fatty material building up in your arteries (the blood vessels that carry blood to your organs). If the arteries that carry blood to your heart get damaged and clogged, it can lead to a heart attack. If this happens in the arteries that carry blood to your brain it can lead to a stroke. The good news is there are ways to reduce the risk of this happening.

Why should I be active?

High blood pressure, high cholesterol and Type 2 diabetes all increase the risk of developing heart and circulatory diseases. Being regularly physically active helps you to reduce your risk of developing these conditions.

You can reduce your risk of heart and circulatory diseases by 35% by being more physically active.

British Heart Foundation

How does physical activity reduce risk?

High blood pressure: Regular physical activity makes your heart stronger. A stronger heart can pump more blood with less effort. This means there is less pressure on your arteries (the blood vessels that take blood to your major organs), which helps your blood pressure stay at a healthy level.

High cholesterol: Physical activity raises your levels of good cholesterol which carries away the bad cholesterol, so it is less likely to clog up your arteries and cause a heart attack or stroke.

Type 2 diabetes: Physical activity helps you use up the extra glucose (sugar) in your blood. This can gradually lower your blood glucose levels.

Being overweight: If you need to manage your weight, being more physically active is important. Being active increases the number of calories you burn, which will help you lose weight. We are all at risk of heart and circulatory diseases and should all, therefore, make sure we move around enough. Aim for at least 30 minutes every day.

What counts as activity?

When we talk about being physically active, we don’t mean putting on a sports kit and joining the gym. You don’t have to get hot and sweaty. We really are talking about getting up and moving around more. All these activities will help to improve your health:

  • Walking;
  • Gardening;
  • Housework;
  • Taking the stairs instead of the lift;
  • Swimming;
  • Cycling.

How much is enough?

To reduce your risk of heart and circulatory diseases, you need to be active every day. Aim to do 150 minutes of exercise a week – that’s about 20–30 minutes a day.

Every time you are active for 10 minutes or more – it counts. Make sure you do 10-minute bursts to add up to at least 20–30 minutes a day. Do something for 10 minutes or more that makes you:
• breathe harder
• feel warmer
• feel your heart beat faster.
You should still be able to hold a normal conversation while you are active.

Find time: Finding time can be tricky, but if you fit activity into things you’re already doing, you’ll be a lot more likely to get into a habit you want to stick
to. This could mean walking to school or work instead of driving, getting off the bus a few stops early or taking the stairs instead of a lift. Try writing a list of everything you do in a day and see where you can slot in 10 minutes or more to be active.
Lots of little things build up to make a big difference.