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An Exercise Program Almost Anyone Can Do To Prevent A Heart Attack!

Unlike some other medical conditions, where people only really know the condition if they themselves or someone close to them is suffering from it, heart attacks are known by almost everyone (or at least we think we know what it is). This is probably because we see them happen on movies and TV shows and because they can be potentially deadly. 

It may come as a surprise to you to learn that 2% of the population or around 430,000 Australians will experience a potentially fatal heart attack at some stage in their life. A better understanding of what a heart attack actually is (more than just the dramatic movie scene) as well as an understanding of things we can do to prevent ourselves or our loved ones having a heart attack, could potentially save someone's life. 


What is a Heart Attack?

A heart attack occurs as a result of the heart muscle either receiving not enough or no oxygenated blood at all. The scientific name for a heart attack is a myocardial infarction. We can break this down to better understand what is going on. 

Myo - muscle

Cardial - heart 

Infarction - injury or death of tissue 

So, basically a heart attack is when there is death or injury of the heart muscle as a result of a lack of oxygenated blood. You see, the very thing that is responsible for moving oxygenated blood around the body so we can walk, talk and function is also responsible for supplying that oxygen to itself! 

What is oxygenated blood and why do you need it? 

The air we breathe in is approximately 21% oxygen (the rest is mainly nitrogen). When we breathe this oxygen it is transported into our lungs, then tiny structures in your lungs called “alveoli” take the oxygen from the lungs and move it into your blood. Thus, we get “oxygenated blood” which is transported to our heart for our heart to pump it out to wherever in our body needs it most! 

All of the cells in our body (including those in our heart and brain) require oxygen to function. Without oxygen the cells effectively suffocate and die. This is what happens with a heart attack. 

So what causes this sudden lack of supply of blood to the heart? 

The oxygenated blood travels around the body through a plumbing system, this plumbing system is made up of a series of pipes known as our veins and arteries. The pipes in this plumbing system come in various shapes and sizes. Some are very wide and carry lots of blood, some are very narrow and carry less. These more narrow arteries also come at a risk of getting blocked! This occurs when we do not look after our arteries for extended periods of time. If we do not look after ourselves, through lack of exercise, poor diet or other lifestyle choices, we can have a direct impact on this pipe system. We may increase the levels of cholesterol in our blood which builds up in the pipe walls until a point where the vessel or the pipe can no longer withstand it. Then the right trigger can cause this vulnerable point to rupture and form a clot or blockage. As a result any tissue on the other side of the pipe relying on the supply of oxygen suffocates and dies. 

When the tissue on the other side is our heart muscle (our myocardium) this results in a heart attack. This happens as the pipes that supply blood to our heart are more narrow than those in other places in our body, so we really need to look after them!

How Does Exercise Help To Prevent Heart Attacks? 

As mentioned previously the thing that builds up in the walls of our arteries, narrowing the pipes and putting us at a greater risk of having a heart attack is cholesterol. Cholesterol is a fatty substance that is a vital part of some very important processes in our body, including those related to our sex hormones. However, just like most things, we can have too much of a good thing! Too much cholesterol can deposit in our artery walls and lead to problems down the line (like a heart attack or stroke). 

Exercise and regular physical activity is one way we can reduce our cholesterol levels. The research also shows that exercise is effective at both lower and higher intensities to reduce cholesterol levels, so our advice would be to simply choose the type of exercise that best suits you!

Aside from lowering our cholesterol levels, regular physical activity can also assist with managing some of the other things that may place us at risk of having a heart attack. Exercise can help with reducing our blood pressure and waist circumference, which are 2 significant risk factors to having a heart attack. 

What Exercises Should I Do?

If you could only do one form of exercise or physical activity to help reduce your risk of having a heart attack we would recommend this be in the form of aerobic or cardiovascular exercise. This form of exercise directly works on improving the health of your heart and all of your cardiovascular system. 

What might this look like? 

If you currently are not doing any exercise we would recommend starting with just a single 5 minute effort in your first week and building this up over time. Cardiovascular exercise is going to be anything where you are repeating some sort of rhythmic motion over and over again, this is things like walking, riding a bicycle, swimming or even air punches. Your first 6 weeks of exercise might look like this: 

Week 1 - 1 x 5 minute effort

Total Exercise = 5 minutes

Week 2 - 1 x 10 minute effort

Total Exercise = 10 minutes

Week 3 - 2 x 7.5 minute effort 

Total Exercise = 15 minutes

Week 4 - 2 x 10 minute effort 

Total Exercise = 20 minutes

Week 5 - 1 x 10 minute and 1 x 15 minute effort 

Total Exercise = 25 minutes

Week 6 - 2 x 15 minute effort. 

Total Exercise = 30 minutes

How hard should I be working? The Talk Test 

In order to improve the health of this system you need to make sure you give it the right amount of challenge. The way you find this is by completing the “talk test”. The talk test is when you are doing your cardiovascular exercise you see if you can talk! If you can talk full sentences without needing to take a breath, you are not working hard enough. If you can speak a full sentence, but every few words you find you need to take a little breath, then you are working hard enough!

We really hope this helped!

I hope this article has been helpful in explaining some of the need to know information about heart attacks as well as how exercise can help. Remember, any exercise is good exercise, and it's never too late to start. Take it slow, find something you enjoy, and start seeing the benefits of exercise for yourself. If you need an extra hand, let us know. 

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