What Happens to the Cardiovascular System During Exercise?

Regular exercise leads to lower blood pressure and better cardiovascular health.
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The long-term effects of exercise on the cardiovascular system include a reduced risk of heart disease and lower blood pressure. Regular exercise at a moderate intensity several times a week might be the key to a healthier heart and longer life.



When you exercise, your heart rate and blood pressure go up to provide your muscles with oxygen. Regular exercise, however, results in lower blood pressure and better cardiovascular health.

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Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for over 600,000 deaths each year in the United States, says a review published in the September 2018 issue of Frontiers of Cardiovascular Medicine. As the researchers note, a sedentary lifestyle is a leading factor contributing to poor cardiovascular health, while exercise has remarkable health benefits, including a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.

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The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends getting at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity. Furthermore, you should add muscle strengthening exercises to your workouts at least two days a week.

The whole point is to spend less time sitting and more time being active. Kids should have at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise per day. The short- and long-term effects of exercise on the cardiovascular system include a lower risk of heart disease, reduced cholesterol levels and improved cardiovascular fitness, just to name a few.


Effect of Exercise on Heart Rate

As soon as you start running or pedaling a bike, your heart starts to beat faster, explains Beth Israel Lahey Health. Your heart rate will go up, which is good because it gets oxygenated blood to your muscles at a faster rate.

Not only does your heart beat faster, but it also beats harder. These contractions result in more blood being pumped throughout your body.


The Frontiers of Cardiovascular Medicine review reports that due to the increase in stroke volume and heart rate, your blood pressure will also go up acutely as you exercise.

Your blood pressure goes up as your exercise, but this effect is temporary. In the long term, your blood pressure will decrease. The above review suggests that exercising three to five times per week may lower your blood pressure enough to have a significant effect on cardiovascular health.


Read more: How Does Exercise Affect Your Heart Rate?

The long-term effects of exercise on the cardiovascular system include a reduced risk of heart disease, says Beth Israel Lahey Health. Plus, you will be able to take deeper and longer breaths. Other cardiovascular adaptations to exercise include a more efficient heart and lungs.


The long-term effect of exercise on heart rate includes a decreased resting heart rate. This is a good thing as it means your heart doesn't have to work as hard or beat as often to circulate blood.


You should see these beneficial cardiovascular adaptations to exercise in as little as two weeks if you're a well-conditioned athlete or up to four weeks if you're just starting to work out, reports Beth Israel Lahey Health.

Is Extreme Exercise Dangerous?

Those who participated in what was considered extreme exercise, such as marathon runners, showed biomarkers of heart damage in their blood samples, notes a June 2012 review published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings. Even though these biomarkers went away, repeatedly stressing the heart in this manner could lead to heart rhythm disorders for those with a genetic predisposition.


The Frontiers of Cardiovascular Medicine review agrees, saying that moderate exercise is beneficial. Continuously high levels of exercise, on the other hand, could have detrimental effects on your heart health.

Read more: The Dangers of Working Out Too Much

How do you know if you are overtraining? The Cleveland Clinic states that most people don't need to worry about overtraining unless they have an underlying cardiac condition, such as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy or coronary heart disease. Not exercising at all is more damaging to your cardiovascular health.

Your best bet is to follow the AHA's recommendation and aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week for optimal cardiovascular health.




Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.

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