heart monitor

Needed: A Better Understanding of Heart Disease and Exercise

Although heart disease is the number one killer of both men and women in the United States, only 20 percent of adults know how much exercise is needed for a healthy heart, according to a survey by the Cleveland Clinic.

The survey also showed 40 percent of Americans are exercising less than that recommended amount – 2.5 hours a week of moderate aerobic exercise.

According to a news release from the clinic, the most commonly cited reason for preventing adequate exercise was work (41 percent), followed by being too tired (37 percent) and obligations with family and friends (28 percent). As for gender differences, the survey found that men are considerably less likely than women to let things get in the way of their exercise routine, with more than one-quarter of them saying nothing prevents them from exercising.

The survey was conducted as part of Cleveland Clinic’s “Love your Heart” consumer education campaign in celebration of American Heart Month.

Researchers also said that there was a significant misunderstanding among adults: only one-third knew that someone with heart disease needs to exercise the same amount as someone without heart disease.

“While heart patients should certainly consult with their doctor before beginning a new program, they should be more worried about the effects of not exercising on their heart than exercising,” said Steve Nissen, M.D., chairman of Cardiovascular Medicine at Cleveland Clinic. “Nearly all people with heart disease, and without, should exercise. It improves blood flow, leads to lower blood pressure and will help you live longer.”

Additional survey findings include:

Weight is the biggest motivating factor to exercise. According to those who exercise weekly, 51 percent say that losing or maintaining weight is the No. 1 motivator. Only 32 percent of Americans say they exercise to benefit their hearts.

Calories can be a mystery. Americans don’t know how much to burn. Despite most Americans exercising for weight purposes, the survey found that 31 percent of those surveyed know they need to burn or cut out 500 calories from their diet to lose one pound a week.

Cardiac rehabilitation isn’t common enough. The benefits of cardiac rehabilitation are known, the news release said, although the process is not used enough. Most Americans (82 percent) realize that cardiac rehabilitation can reduce mortality rates from heart disease by about half. However, typically less than a third of patients prescribed cardiac rehab complete it. Cardiac rehab is a medically supervised program designed to improve health by identifying and reducing risk factors that lead to cardiovascular disease. It includes emphasis on appropriate exercise and diet for heart patients.

Tests may be over-emphasized by patients. While it’s true that those with heart disease should talk to their doctor about starting an exercise program, most Americans don’t understand which patients actually need stress tests. Eighty-one percent of those surveyed incorrectly thought that someone with high cholesterol needs an exercise stress test before starting an exercise program.

“Heart disease kills about 1 in 4 Americans, but many of these deaths could be prevented by simple lifestyle changes like exercising and improving diet,” Nissen said. “Americans know exercise is important, but most don’t realize just how far a little exercise can go – potentially reducing the risk of dying from heart disease by as much as 40 to 50 percent. It’s worth making time for it.”

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