On the 29th of September we were celebrating World’s Heart Day!

That heart is the most important muscle in our body we don’t even have to mention because, as we know, it is the heart that keeps us alive and enables the work of all other organs and parts of our body. This blog will not explain how the heart is built, which mechanisms are responsible for the transport of blood and what is the cardiac output. You can find all of this in the basic textbook of Fitness Academy. Here, we will make the overview of commonest heart diseases, prevention and the importance of health enhanced physical exercise for healthy heart. We will also show you results of the questionnaire on Physical Activity for primary care doctors made by Fintess Academy and Andrija Štampar, Teaching Institute of Public Health as a part of Fitness Index project.

According to the World Health Organization, about 17 million people die annually from cardiovascular diseases and around 5 million in Europe alone. In Croatia, this number is about 27 thousand, approximately half of all deceased persons! When speaking of sudden cardiac death, 1 Croatian dies in every hour during the day which leads to about 9 thousand such deaths annually.

The number one killer of modern man: What are the most common heart diseases?

The most common heart disease in Croatia is coronary heart disease, i.e. narrowing or blockage of arteries that supply cardiac muscle induced of atherosclerosis (hardening of blood vessels). The most difficult complication of coronary heart disease is certainly a heart attack (myocardial infarction).

Elevated blood pressure (arterial hypertension) is not in itself a heart disease but increases risk for the development of congestive heart disease, heart attack and stroke. Let’s remember, high blood pressure is diagnosed when the upper (systolic) pressure is higher than 140 mmhg, and the lower higher than 90 mmhg.

Fortunately, risk factors for the aforementioned conditions, such as inadequate nutrition, obesity, sedentary lifestyle, unbalanced drinking alcohol, smoking and increasingly frequent stress and emotional tension, can be changed. The only way to prevent it is to avoid and treat risk factors, and for those who do not eat healthy food, keep their body weight within normal limits, be physically active (engage in health-oriented exercise) and avoid chronic stress.

We should also mention other heart diseases whose etiology is different from previous and whose problems will not be discussed further like heart valve disease, cardiac arrhythmias and heart muscle diseases (myocardial).

Health-oriented physical exercise for a healthy heart

Even small birds from the nearby branch already know that exercise is more than useful for our overall health. However, the exclamation is put on Health Enhancing Exercise. You are probably aware that recreational exercise can sometimes lead person to extremes. Some of you experienced it on yourself, saw it on your friends or family or at least heard of it through the media.

Too much exercise, inadequate sleep and non-balanced or restricted nutrition can have same effects as lack of exercise, passiveness and poor nutrition.  But let’s go back to health enhanced physical exercise and its influence on cardiac health that should be the priority of each fitness instructor and his clients. Health enhanced physical exercise lowers blood pressure and increases the good cholesterol HDL (high density Lipoprotein Lipoprotein), improves blood circulation of the heart and whole body, ensures proper oxygenation to the heart, lungs, muscles and veins and induces vasoconstriction and dilatation of blood vessels. Even in case of a heart attack, there will be better outcomes in those regularly engage in physical exercise.

What do the doctors say?

The aim of Fitness Index project is to create a curriculum for the implementation of health-enhanced physical training, for physicians and fitness specialists, to develop cooperation between physicians, kinesiologists and fitness experts for implementing health-oriented physical exercise in the daily preventive activities for the preservation of health. Within Fitness Index project research on physicians has been made.

218 doctors from Republic of Croatia were examined, of which 83.9% were general practitioners, sports and work medicine specialists and school medicine specialist. Most respondents (91%) believe that regular physical activity is beneficial in the treatment of coronary heart disease while similar number (90%) believes the same for hypertension. However, no matter how much physical activity or physical exercise they consider to be important for different diseases and conditions, only a little more than half (57%) often or always asks their new patients about their current level of physical activity, while 54% asks that question to their old patients. 79% of physicians usually ask questions about physical activity those patients that have symptoms of disease that can be favorably mediated by physical activity.

More than half of the doctors interviewed (66%) often talk to their patients about the usefulness of physical activity, while 38% of physicians discusses possible program of physical activity with patients.

Most doctors examined (73%) feel able to give general advice on physical activity, while considerably less (30%) feel able to prescribe specific programs of physical activity. 43% in their daily practice recommends physical activity programs to all patients, while 83% advises physical activity to those patients who have symptoms or conditions where physical activity may be useful. Patients mainly (83%) give oral information to their physicians on their daily physical activity.

Although interested in health-oriented physical exercise, most of our subjects (59%) continue to recommend an increase in walking as part of daily activities for a healthy, sedentary adult.

Together towards the healthy heart!

The heart must not be taken for granted (both metaphorically and literally J). We need a set of preventive measures to protect and try to minimize heart disease risk factors. In all this, health-oriented physical activity can and must play an important role. Balanced and well-thought-out training is the key to health care. Extreme and inappropriate efforts should be avoided, and the focus should be on the best balance between different exercises aimed at development of muscular and cardio fitness. The World Health Organization, in its general recommendations on physical activity for the adult population between 18 and 64 years of age, recommends 2 to 3 times a week of cardio training with the addition of resistance training that involves large muscle groups aimed at development and strengthening of muscle fitness 2 times a week. As for the duration of the activities, the minimum recommendation (watch out— MiNiMaL!) is 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity or 75 minutes of brisk activity weekly. Recommending an increase in walking as part of the daily activities, is certainly not a bad start, especially when it comes to people who spend most of their time in a sitting position. However, person needs to come out of this comfort zone and slowly increase the intensity of physical activity to come into the domain of health-oriented physical exercise as the best form of prevention of cardiac diseases.