Published on : 19 June 20203 min reading time
Regular physical activity is good for your health. But in practice, what are the benefits? How does physical activity affect the heart and blood vessels?
When you exercise, your heart beats faster. The blood circulates more quickly through the vessels and, in doing so, red blood cells rub against the walls of the blood vessels: nitric oxide is released, which increases the flexibility of these vessels. The coronary arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle also benefit.
In addition, physical activity encourages the development of new vessels: a network is formed that will make up for defective vessels and reduce the risk of death in the event of a myocardial infarction, for example. This is called vascular collaterality.
Finally, the heart itself adapts. During exercise, contracting muscles squeeze the veins and send a lot of blood back to the heart. The organ then expands. With repeated exercise, it becomes more flexible and therefore beats less quickly. All studies show that a slower beating heart has a longer life expectancy.
What kind of physical activity is good for our health?
The first thing to remember is that physical or sporting activity has a beneficial effect on the whole body, not just the heart. But for the heart, contrary to what has been thought for a long time, endurance exercises alone are not enough. It is necessary to combine them with muscle strengthening exercises. The endurance exercises will facilitate the dilation of the vessels; the muscular reinforcement, by increasing the general muscular mass, will promote a more important return of blood to the heart.
After the age of 60, I also recommend flexibility and balance exercises. Activities such as cycling, Nordic walking or hiking on rough terrain combine endurance and muscle strengthening. Swimming and running are good for endurance. Strengthening your muscles means going up and down stairs as often as possible. But whatever physical activity you do, the most important thing is to enjoy it. Otherwise, you won’t persevere.
How often should I do this activity?
The minimum is 30 minutes of physical activity every day. During these thirty minutes, which can be broken down into three times ten minutes, you should be slightly out of breath but still be able to talk. This is what happens when you walk at a brisk pace or when you ride a bike. That is the minimum amount of physical activity we should all be doing.
Ideally, we should also be active three times a week for 30 to 45 minutes. These three weekly sessions are now an integral part of the treatment of all chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, moderate depression.
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