Heart disease in the United States is responsible for the death of five times as many women than is breast cancer yet many women are not aware of this fact. In addition, over four million Americans have congestive heart failure that costs the health care system over $10 billion annually. Regardless of the high risks of heart disease and failure which are reported, researchers have found that exercise and other preventative methods can reduce the risk of heart disease by 50 percent and exercise applied to those who have experienced congestive heart failure also helps in improving the overall functionality of the patient.
Overall, researchers have found that exercise combined with quitting smoking, reducing cholesterol levels, loss of weight in those who are overweight and for women, the addition of hormone replacement therapy during and after menopause, are all the best preventative measures at lowering the risk of heart disease. While the information about breast cancer in women has increased and women generally seem worried about the risk and chance of breast cancer, few women actually realize that for every woman that dies of breast cancer, five die of heart disease.
In a series of recent polls conduction on behalf of Prevention Magazine, only 37% of those polled were aware that the risk of dying from heart disease is greater than that of dying from breast cancer (Prevention, 1997). Largely, the American population believes that heart disease is mostly affiliated with a man, which is true until women reach menopause and then their rate of heart disease increases and by the time women and men are at the age of 75, the risk of heart disease is equal in men and women.
While largely women who die from heart disease may still have ten more years of life than men who do, the exception lies in the population of women with diabetes who actually have a higher-risk of heart disease than do non-diabetic men (Prevention, 1997). Despite the risk of heart disease in women, over 59% of the population has reported that their family doctors have not discussed the risk of heart disease which is considered unacceptable according to Dr. Marianne J. Legato, co-author of “The Female Heart” (1991).
Because of this however, women and men must be proactive in their fight against increased risk of heart disease which includes regular checks of cholesterol levels, blood pressure and weight (Prevention, 1997). In addition to the checking of cholesterol, blood pressure and weight levels, women must also be aware of several other preventative methods which include hormone-replacement therapy (HRT) during menopause and exercise. Most women do not know that hormone-replacement therapy reduces their risk of heart disease by more than half (Prevention, 1997). According to Dr. William Castelli, “exercise and diet work terrifically to reduce your risk factors, even after menopause” (Prevention, 1997, p. 82). Women are also at an advantage when they use preventative methods such as diet, exercise and hormone replacement therapy in that they can reverse heart disease more easily than men are able to. Generally for prevention and decreased risk of heart disease there are basic steps which need to be taken. Firstly, if a person smokes, he or she is advised to quit as smoking is the “number-one risk factor for heart disease” (Prevention, 1997, p. 2). Secondly, if a person is overweight, he or she is urged to lose weight as even a little loss can make a large difference in risk of heart disease in regards to improvements in their blood pressure, blood sugars and cholesterol measurements. Third, people are encouraged to get regular aerobic exercise. Research has found that 3 hours a week of moderate-intensity exercise like brisk walking can reduce the risk of heart disease by up to 40 percent.
Finally, people are recommended to eat less saturated fat and switching to a low fat diet can not only lower cholesterol levels but will also help a person to lose weight; both good benefits in regards to reduction of risk of heart disease (Prevention, 1997). A recent study on the effects of exercise on patients who have had congestive heart failure helped address the epidemic which has plagued the United States for several years. Overall it is estimated that over four million Americans have congestive heart failure (CHF) and accounts for over $10 billion in health care costs (Guerra-Garcia, Taffet and Protas, 1997).
Regardless of the population studied however, it has been found that exercise training improves the overall functional status of a person in addition to improving exercise capacity and reducing disability. The study showed different populations within those who had CHF and it was found that exercise training for 16 to 24 weeks “produced a 23% increase in oxygen levels and a 50% increase in exercise duration at a submaximal level” (Guerra-Garcia, Taffet and Protas, 1997, p. 60).
Submaximal performance is considered that which is consistent with performing daily tasks for daily living. While the 16 to 24 week duration showed a 50% increase in exercise duration, time periods of less duration also showed an increase in oxygen levels and a 19% increase in exercise duration (Guerra-Garcia, Taffet and Protas, 1997). These findings are consistent with those reported earlier in which any level of exercise and weight loss can decrease the risk of heart disease consistently in patients.
While increased exercise training in men was shown to improve heart and oxygen level functions, the studies of women showed that more than just exercise was needed to increase heart functioning. In some cases where women had low estrogen levels, it was found that increased exercise did not affect their overall end-diastolic volume. Similar to the previous report then, in women hormone-replacement therapy may prove to be equally important in improving heart condition.
Regardless of the estrogen levels and damage to the heart in women patients with CHF, it was found that exercise intervention was important in reclaiming and maintaining their functional levels (Guerra-Garcia, Taffet and Protas, 1997). Overall, it has been found that exercise is effective in both the prevention of heart disease and the recovery from congestive heart failure. For men, exercise along with quitting smoking, lower cholesterol intake, and losing weight can be helpful in reducing the risk of heart disease and also for increasing functioning in those with congestive heart failure.
For women during or after menopause, hormone replacement therapy in addition to exercise, quitting smoking, lowering cholesterol intake and losing weight are considered beneficial in regards to decreasing the risk of heart disease and increasing functionality in those patients with congestive heart failure. Regardless of the intensity of the exercise regimen, although three hours per week is recommended, heart risk is decreased in all patients and the more exercise is initiated the more so is the decrease in the risk of heart disease.