Exercise and Coronary Heart Disease

By: Yuri Elkaim, BPHE, CK, RHN


Coronary heart disease (CHD) is associated with a gradual narrowing of the arteries serving the heart due to the thickening of the inner lining of the artery. This is process is known as atherosclerosis and is the leading cause of heart attack and stroke deaths!

Studies have shown the risk for CHD increases with the number of cigarettes smoked, the degree to which blood pressure is elevated, and the quantity of cholesterol in the blood. The first two factors are agents that weaken the blood vessels making them more susceptible to the depositing of cholesterol, which a repair mechanism used by the body.

Of interest is that a ton of research has now shown physical inactivity (or lack of exercise) is also a risk factor for coronary heart disease. For instance, a 1987 study by Powell and colleagues found that as the amount of exercise increased, the risk of CHD decreased.

More recent studies have demonstrated the role of exercise in preventing CHD is related to its ability to improve glucose tolerance, break blood clots, and reduce blood pressure. It has also been shown that the risk of developing CHD is twice is as likely in those that do not exercise compared to those that do.


So What Can You Do?

Well, the first thing is pretty obvious - don't smoke! In fact, minimize, or better yet avoid, anything that causes free radical damage to your arteries. This is true culprit of heart disease. When your arteries become scarred and damaged your body will release cholesterol from the liver to act as a band-aid to heal the "wound". It's very similar to what your body does when you have a cut - it forms a scab. Although, this time, the scab is inside your arteries and the result is that cholesterol packs on top of it. Over time this is not a desirable occurrence.

Things like cigarettes, alcohol, refined sugars, drugs, acidic foods (meat and dairy), and stress all cause damage to your arteries. The goal then is to avoid them. Your best bet, for your heart and overall health, is to follow a raw foods diet.

Second, you need to be exercising on a daily basis. By that I mean you need to move your body every single day. The absolute minimum is 30-45 minutes of walking each day. Above and beyond that, it is recommended to engage in strength training exercise at least 3 times per week. You need to strengthen your muscles and strength training also strengthens your heart.

More intense cardiovascular (or aerobic) exercise can be added as well at the frequency of 2-3 times per week. But remember that your diet is more important that aerobic exercise for the health of your heart. You can never out train a bad diet!


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Powell, K. et al. (1987). Physical activity and the incidence of coronary heart disease. Annual Review of Public Health, 8: 253-257.


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