That Exercise has Enormous Benefits
in Fighting Cardio Vascular Disease?

By: John Sawdon Director of Education & Special Projects, Cardiac Health Foundation of Canada

Physical inactivity is a modifiable risk factor for cardiovascular disease and an array of other co-morbid (meaning exists with and is independent of coronary heart disease) chronic diseases. This includes diabetes mellitus, cancer (breast and colon) obesity, hypertension, dyslipidemia, bone and joint disease and depression.

51% of Canadians are physically inactive making physical inactivity the highest modifiable risk factor that we can do something about in reducing our risks for coronary heart disease and other chronic diseases (1).

Two major studies “The Health Professionals Follow Up Study” (n=44,452 men) and the “Women’s Health Study” (n=30,800 women) both found that intensity (walking pace) of exercise and duration (time) significantly reduced the risk of coronary heart disease. The intensity of exercise was more closely related to reduction of risk for coronary heart disease than duration. The “Health Professionals Follow Up Study” was the first study to provide evidence for the effectiveness of resistance training (weights and or rubber bands) in reducing coronary heart disease. The reduction in coronary heart disease risk in resistance training was similar to brisk walking and rowing. The “Women’s Health Study” found that women who walked between 1 to 3 hours per week had up to a 50% reduction of coronary heart disease events. It also found that duration, length of time committed to walking was more effective in reducing coronary heart disease. Later studies which looked at interval training suggest that intensity of exercise is related to reductions in cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease.

In terms of primary prevention, physically inactive middle aged women engaging in less than one hour a week of exercise experienced a 52% increase in all cause mortality, a doubling of cardiovascular related mortality and a 29% increase in cancer related mortality compared with physically active women. These risks are the same for hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, and obesity and they approach those associated with moderate smoking. People who are fit and have cardiovascular disease may be at a lower risk of mortality than those who are sedentary and without cardio vascular disease. An increase in physical fitness will reduce the risk of premature death and a decrease in physical fitness will increase the risk. (2) This finding extends across gender, age and race/ethnicity.

This is the first of three articles which will appear in the DID YOU KNOW series on exercise and cardiovascular disease over the next three weeks. The next article will address “How much Exercise is enough and how do I figure out my Intensity level?” The third article will explore the benefits of Aerobic Exercise and Resistance Training including a starting point for beginners.

We encourage you to become physically active in preventing and managing cardiovascular disease. This change in your lifestyle will improve your mood, enhance your self-esteem and reduce body fatigue when walking or doing household chores.


  1. Kokkinos, Peter Ph.D; Myers Jonathan Ph.D; Exercise and Physical Activity Clinical Outcomes and Applications. 2010 American Heart Association http://circ.ahajournals.org
  2. Shiroma,Eric J., M.Sc.; Lee I-Min, MBBS, ScD; Physical activity and Cardiovascular Health- Lessons learned from Epidemiological studies across Age, Gender and Race/Ethnicity. 2010 American heart Association http://circ.ahajournals.org

The articles, on the Cardiac Health Foundation of Canada website, are presented with the understanding that the Foundation is providing information only and not rendering medical advice. Please check with your family physician, specialist or health care professional before implementing any of the ideas expressed in these articles.