The heart is a vital organ in the human body, which is quite flexible and moderates its function based on the needs of the body. Regular exercise can tune it to perform better, thereby improving the quality of life—an admirable motivation, especially in this era of obesity. Regular exercise has been proven valuable by various researchers. Strenuous training, as observed in athletes, has resulted in improvement in the structure and functions of the heart as well as causing some useful weight loss. The size of the heart cavity and thickness of the walls of the heart increase enabling the heart to pump blood in a more efficient way at lesser stress.1 Therefore, the amount of blood pumped by the heart (referred to as cardiac output) is increased.
R. J. Linden, a researcher from King’s College at the University of London, has found that an athlete’s heart can pump up to six times more efficiently than one belonging to a normal individual. Additionally, the rates and volumes of blood transferred through the heart are also improved by almost 50% in the athletes examined.2 This results in an increased blood supply to the parts of the body, such as arms and legs that are situated quite far from the heart and are at risk of decreased blood supply in case of heart disorders.
Aerobic exercise has been found to have the beneficial effect of improving the function of the cells and tissues of the heart. Such exercise, and any necessary weight loss, decreases the load on the heart and, therefore, reduces the stress on its muscles.3 Also, a regular exercise program may cause a slight reduction in blood pressure and often results in overall control of blood pressure.
The beneficial effect on the heart may be as a result of following:
- Positive impact on the nervous system which, in turn, helps in regulation of the functioning of the heart and the blood vessels.4
- The levels of bad cholesterol are decreased and good cholesterol is increased.
- Body weight or body fat can be reduced or maintained, which indirectly lowers the load on the heart.
- The oxygen consumption of the various parts of the body is increased, allowing better functioning.
- The blood volume and its ability to carry oxygen are increased.
- The workload on the heart is reduced, which helps the heart to perform well.
Increased blood supply to muscles and their ability to use oxygen.4,5
Professor Nicholas Taylor, School of Physiotherapy, at La Trobe University has concluded that therapeutic exercise is effective in a wide range of physiotherapy practices.6
One of the studies has revealed that aerobic exercise training performed for 40–60 minutes, three times a week for 8–16 weeks was effective in reducing the number of deaths in individuals who had suffered from heart failure [Certainly a great motivation for everyone].7
Exercise is beneficial only if it is performed three or more times per week on a regular basis. Regular exercise improves the functioning of the heart and the blood circulation in both the young and adults. It helps in reducing the risk factors such as obesity, hypertension and insulin resistance, which have a vital role in causing heart disorders.8
- Naylor LH, et al. The athlete’s heart: A Contemporary Appraisal of the ‘Morganroth Hypothesis. Sports Med. 2008; 38(1): 69–90.
- Linden RJ. The Size of the Heart. Cardioscience. 1994; 5(4): 225–233.
- Umpierre D, Stein R. Hemodynamic and Vascular Effects of Resistance Training: Implications for Cardiovascular Disease. Arq Bras Cardiol. 2007; 89(4): 256–262.
- Grassi G, et al. Physical Exercise in Essential Hypertension. Chest. 1992; 101(5 Suppl): 312S–314S.
- Georgia State University. The Benefits of Exercise. Available from: http://www2.gsu.edu/~wwwfit/benefits.html
- Taylor NF, Dodd KJ, Shields N, Bruder A. Therapeutic Exercise in Physiotherapy Practice is Beneficial: A Summary of Systematic Reviews 2002–2005. Aus J Physiother. 2007; 53: 7–16.
- Rees K, Taylor RS, Singh S, Coats AJS, Ebrahim S. Exercise-Based Rehabilitation for Heart Failure. The Cochrane Library, 2004; Issue 3: Update Software.
- Hanna I, Wenger NK. Secondary Prevention of Coronary Heart Disease in Elderly Patients. Am Fam Physician. 2005; 71: 2289–2296.