Preventing Heart Disease Ten Minutes at a Time: The link between lack of physical activity and Coronary Heart Disease

June 3, 2013

As the Exercise Physiologist for Hoag Executive Health I have the privilege of working directly with each executive who receives one of our comprehensive physicals. Almost everyone I meet with describes a busy, hectic work week, and an even busier home life. They know that exercise is important and that theyshould find time to fit it in, but figure as long as their cholesterol is low and blood pressure is normal their risk of developing Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) is low.

It turns out that a lack of physical activity is just as accurate a predictor of developing CHD as high cholesterol[1]. Engaging in physical activity improves your cardiorespiratory fitness and directly increases your ability to prevent heart disease. Cardiorespiratory fitness refers to the functional ability of the heart, blood vessels, lungs, and muscles to work together. Even individuals with high LDL levels of cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol) can avoid CHD as long as they display high levels of cardiorespiratory fitness.

Cardiorespiratory fitness is quantified with a VO2max test. There are several ways to perform the test but it is typically done on a treadmill or bike. Once your VO2 max is identified, your risk of developing CHD can be determined. Every Hoag Executive Physical includes a VO2 max test in each so that we can provide each client with an accurate insight into their heart’s heath.

The only way to improve cardiorespiratory fitness is to exercise, but taking an hour out of your day to workout might not be a realistic option. If this is the case, you have to find small opportunities throughout the day to squeeze in activity. Three, 10-minute bouts of moderate-intensity activity are just as effective as one half-hour session[2]. Moderate-intensity exercise is equal to walking at a speed of 4.0 mph on a treadmill, or at a pace that requires enough heavy breathing that you can’t speak more than a few words at a time. Take a brisk walk around your building first thing in the morning, again at lunch, and once more before your leave. Consider investing in an activity tracker (the Fitbit pedometer, Nike Fuel band andJawbone UP bracelet are popular options) that will let you know if you are getting enough movement in your day.

While it is important to actively monitor your cholesterol, monitoring your physical activity may be just as important. Engaging in physical activity provides heart protection that can not be obtained by other means. Preventing heart disease requires a comprehensive approach to your health, but it’s worth the effort.


Amanda Allen MS, CSCS