Since February is American Heart Month let’s begin this series on physical therapy and non-communicable diseases with research findings on the benefits of exercise and physical therapy on preventing and treating cardiovascular disease.

First, we must define cardiovascular disease: it is the term used to describe diseases that affect the heart and circulatory system, which includes heart disease, stroke, and hypertension (raised blood pressure). One of the key interventions prescribed by physical therapists that can prevent death and disability caused by cardiovascular disease is exercise, particularly aerobic conditioning and strength training. The expert advice provided by physical therapists can help those already battling cardiovascular disease return to usual roles such as work, education, and community participation.

Cardiovascular general

“Cardiovascular disease is now the leading cause of deaths worldwide. It has been estimated that if everyone walked briskly at 4.8-6.4 kph (3-4 mph) on most days of the week, about 30% of deaths from cardiovascular disease would be prevented each year. Research involving people at risk of cardiovascular disease has indicated that exercise supervised by physical therapists, along with counselling from a dietician, brings significant improvements in blood pressure, weight, quality of life and other health indicators after one year.”

Hypertension (raised blood pressure)

“Raised blood pressure, which is a risk factor for heart attack and stroke, can be controlled by exercise. One study has indicated that endurance exercise brings an average reduction of 10mm Hg for both systolic and diastolic blood pressure readings. The type of strength training prescribed by physical therapists can effectively reduce blood pressure in older men and women. Major analyses of available research have indicated that exercise can reduce resting blood pressure by 3 mm Hg for resting systolic blood pressure. This type of blood pressure reduction has been associated with a 5-9% reduction in heart morbidity, and a 8% to 14% reduction in the risk of stroke.”


“Exercise reduces the risk of stroke. Walking at 4.8 kph (3 mph) for 5 hrs/wk brings a 46% lower risk of stroke, compared with non-exercisers. Structured exercise also brings improvement in all measures of impairment and disability in people who have had a stroke. In one study, patients who had had a stroke performed strengthening and functional tasks three times a week for four weeks, and gained significant improvements in strength, walking speed, standing/sitting and endurance.”

Heart Disease

“Systematic reviews of evidence have shown that therapeutic exercise provided by physical therapists is beneficial to people with coronary heart disease, heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Reviews of evidence have shown that exercise-based cardiac rehabilitation for patients with coronary heart disease significantly improves health outcomes and mortality rates.”

World Heart Day (September 29th, 2018)

“World Heart Day was created to inform people around the globe that heart disease and stroke are the world’s leading cause of death, claiming 17.2 million lives each year.  Together with its members, the World Heart Federation spreads the news that at least 80% of premature deaths from heart disease and stroke could be avoided if the main risk factors, tobacco, unhealthy diet and physical inactivity, are controlled.”