State of the Heart

Illnesses such as stroke, heart attack (myocardial infarction), angina pectoris, aortic aneurism and intermittent claudication all represent diseases of the heart and arteries. These, and others, are all examples of cardiovascular disease (CVD). 450,000 Norwegians live with cardiovascular disease, meaning everyone knows someone affected.

Cardiovascular disease is a leading cause of death, and the World Health Organization estimates that cardiovascular disease kills 17.3 million people globally every year.

Even though the prognosis today is more optimistic than few years ago for those affected, cardiovascular disease remains an increasing burden on health care providers. With an aging population, the demand for treatment will continue to increase. Therefore, research on both treatment and prevention of cardiovascular disease is an important investment in the future.

Different cardiovascular diseases

There are many types of cardiovascular diseases, each with different underlying causes and risk profiles. Heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, heart failure and angina pectoris are among the most common ones.

  • A heart attack involves acute obstruction of the heart's own blood vessels. The lack of oxygen to the heart causes the death of heart muscle cells, leaving a scar called a myocardial infarction.

  • Angina pectoris is also caused by narrow coronary arteries. Stable angina pectoris often causes no pain at rest, but chest pain increases at increasing levels of exertion.

  • Heart failure means that the heart is no longer able to pump enough blood to supply all the body's organs. In systolic heart failure, the heart's pump function is reduced, whereas diastolic heart failure involves impaired ability to fill the heart with blood between two beats.

  • High blood pressure is not a disease in itself, but can damage arteries and lead to plaque formation that increases the risk of cardiovascular disease over time.

  • A stroke is usually caused by a blood clot in one of the brain's arteries, but can also be caused by a ruptured blood vessel in the brain. As a consequence, brain cells die from the lack of oxygen supply.

Risk factors for cardiovascular disease include lack of physical activity, obesity, diabetes, family history of cardiovascular disease, high blood cholesterol and triglycerides, smoking and an unhealthy diet.

The good news: Exercise helps!

Although there are several risk factors for cardiovascular disease, lifestyle plays an important part. Therefore, it is possible to reduce the risk through lifestyle changes. CERG's research on exercise and cardiovascular disease shows that regular physical activity is important for cardiovascular health, and many can improve their health substantially by reducing physical inactivity.

For example, a study on patients with the metabolic syndrome showed that the greatest reduction in mortality risk was found in people who maintained a low level of physical activity, compared to none at all. This could be important knowledge to make more people start exercise, even if the risk of premature death was even lower among those who exercised more.

Furthermore, our research shows that aerobic interval training is one of the types of exercise that yields the best results. In patients with myocardial infarction, we found that a little high-intensity training had a greater effect than more time spent on low- or medium-intensity training. We found that 4x4 interval training can improve the peak oxygen uptake (a measure of fitness) effectively both in the short and longer terms. This is important because fitness has proven to be a good predictor of future health.

Ready, get set... exercise!

CERG recommends that you find time for exercise every week. If you need help to get started, you can take a look at our 7-week fitness program, which will help you get into better shape and improve your physical fitness quickly.

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NTNU, Fakultet for medisin og helsevitenskap
Institutt for sirkulasjon og bildediagnostikk
Postboks 8905
7491 Trondheim

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St. Olavs Hospital
Prinsesse Kristinas gt. 3
Akutten og Hjerte-lunge-senteret, 3. etg.
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