Cardiovascular benefits of improved exercise capacity

Sports Med. 1993 Oct;16(4):225-36. doi: 10.2165/00007256-199316040-00002.


The evidence suggesting that regular exercise can help to prevent coronary artery disease is overwhelming. While some studies have suggested that exercise will not provide health benefits, our inactive population needs to pay heed to the substantial data presented by the many international health organisations suggesting the opposite. The American Heart Association Medical/Scientific Statement on Exercise emphasised the large role regular aerobic physical activity plays in the prevention of cardiovascular disease. Several human studies have also demonstrated the positive effects of long term exercise on the human heart. For example, it has been shown that a consistent exercise programme can lessen the impact of atherosclerotic plaques through increasing coronary artery diameter. Echocardiography studies on a training group of competitive swimmers have shown that exercise training can induce rapid changes in left ventricular dimensions and mass, which can ultimately lead to an increased stroke volume and increased maximal oxygen consumption. Studies on sedentary individuals have also demonstrated an increase in maximal oxygen uptake with a regular endurance exercise programme. In addition to these health benefits, habitual dynamic exercise can also decrease the likelihood of a cardiac event. Others have demonstrated a 50% lower incidence of coronary events in those individuals maintaining rigorous activity 2 days a week. With the preponderance of evidence revealing the health benefits of habitual exercise, it is striking to learn that more than 50% of the US population exercises for less than 20 minutes, 3 days a week. The widespread nature of this sedentary lifestyle makes inactivity an attributable fraction of the total risk factors associated with cardiac disease. The amount of exercise needed to reduce the risk of coronary artery disease is a minimum aerobic workout of 30 minutes, 4 to 5 times a week, such as a vigorous walk. Comprehensive programmes promoting exercise training should be implemented at a level appropriate to an individual's capacity and need.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Exercise Therapy
  • Exercise Tolerance / physiology*
  • Heart / physiology*
  • Heart Diseases / prevention & control*
  • Humans
  • Physical Fitness / physiology