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Exercise can benefit those with mildly high cholesterol and blood pressure, AHA says

Swapping sedentary habits for more physically active ones can benefit consumers’ heart health

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Staying physically active is an important component of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. That advice is being showcased in a recent round of recommendations by the American Heart Association (AHA).

The group says more movement and less sedentary time should be a primary focus for those struggling with mildly high cholesterol or blood pressure. The organization released a statement that encourages health care providers to “prescribe” physical activity as a means of improving critical health markers. 

“The current American Heart Association guidelines for diagnosing high blood pressure and cholesterol recognize that otherwise healthy individuals with mildly or moderately elevated levels of these cardiovascular risk factors should actively attempt to reduce these risks,” said researcher Bethany Barone Gibbs, Ph.D. “The first treatment strategy for many of these patients should be healthy lifestyle changes beginning with increasing physical activity.”  

Health benefits of more movement

The experts released their guidance based on the number of consumers who struggle with moderately high cholesterol and blood pressure. They explained that nearly 30% of consumers nationwide struggle with cholesterol, while more than 21% have mildly high blood pressure readings. 

Conversely, consumers who spend more time being physically active and less time sitting are likely to have better health outcomes. Consistent exercise is linked with a 36% lower risk of cardiovascular-related death and a 21% lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease. 

“Increasing physical activity can help lower blood pressure and cholesterol, along with many other health benefits,” said Dr. Gibbs. 

Exercising more often is associated with tangible results in lowering both cholesterol and blood pressure; cholesterol can be reduced by as much as 6 mg/dL and blood pressure can fall by as much as 4 mm Hg if a person takes part in more regular physical activity. For those that fall in the mildly or moderately high category of either of these measures, that kind of reduction can make significant differences in terms of long-term heart health. 

Using health care providers as a resource

While the AHA recommends that consumers focus on physical activity, it’s important that they also receive resources and support from their health care providers. Changing activity habits can be difficult, so it’s important for doctors to help their patients find activities that are best suited to their needs and interests. They can also be sources of support and encouragement throughout the process. 

Though the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that adults engage in either 75 minutes of vigorous exercise or 150 minutes of intense exercise each week, increasing physical activity in any way is beneficial to consumers’ heart health. 

“In our world where physical activity is increasingly engineered out of our lives and the overwhelming default is to sit -- and even more so now as the nation and the world is practicing quarantine and isolation to reduce the spread of coronavirus -- the message that we must be relentless in our pursuit to ‘sit less and move more’ throughout the day is more important than ever,” Dr. Gibbs said. 

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