Regular physical activity is essential for keeping your heart strong. Brisk walking for 20 minutes every day is a vital daily activity that can help improve your heart health. However, certain groups may face additional barriers that could limit their ability to take daily walks. According to a recent scientific statement from the American Heart Association, increasing physical activity can improve heart health, especially among those at high risk for cardiovascular diseases. Also, physical activity can help reduce cardiovascular health disparities.
The American Heart Association Scientific Statement, “Improving Equity in Promoting Physical Activity for Optimizing Cardiovascular Health in Adults,” is an expert analysis of current research and may influence future guidelines. The statement explores the physical activity levels of different adult groups and assesses strategies to increase physical activity in groups at risk of deteriorating health. The purpose of these efforts is to equitably reduce cardiovascular risk through physical activity.
Regular physical activity is part of Life’s Essential 8, a healthy lifestyle checklist by the American Heart Association that measures cardiovascular health. Life’s Essential 8 details four health factors, including blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, and weight index, and four behavioral/lifestyle factors, such as smoking status, physical activity, sleep, and diet. However, one in four US adults has less than the level of physical activity recommended by US Department of Health guidelines.
In reviewing the latest scientific evidence on physical activity programs developed to improve physical activity levels in specific populations, the scientific statement noted that certain groups of people with high pre-existing cardiovascular disease risk factors had low levels of physical activity. These groups include older people, women, black people, people with disabilities, people with depression, people with low socioeconomic status, and people living in rural areas or hard-to-walk areas.
Successful physical activity programs require the cooperation, engagement, and leadership of local communities to help address barriers and ensure that community needs are met. It is important to involve communities in the design, implementation, and evaluation of physical activity programs to enable residents to improve heart health through increased physical activity. Approaches to increasing physical activity need to address not only common barriers but also barriers specific to the needs of particular communities.
According to Dr. Gerald J. Jerome, Volunteer Chair of the Science Statement Writing Committee, the team approach involves health professionals who regularly assess and promote physical activity in every patient. With community support in place, reducing disability helps more people become physically active and improves their heart health. To sustain these efforts, more research funding will be needed to support communities and researchers working together to develop attractive and sustainable ways to increase physical activity levels in their populations.
The American Heart Association advocates a wide range of policies to improve access to physical activity opportunities, including funding for physical education in schools and improving walkability in communities. Scientific statements from the American Heart Association help raise awareness about cardiovascular disease and stroke issues and promote informed medical decisions. The scientific description outlines what is currently known about the topic and areas where additional research is needed.