How exercise halts the progression of cardiovascular disease

The health benefits of resistance training and cardiovascular exercise are no secret. From medical professionals to Joe Bloggs, this knowledge is widespread.

As specialists in cardiac rehabilitation, however, we really hone in on the benefits of this type of exercise in coronary artery disease (CAD) and other cardiac conditions.

Here, we present some numbers to back up the theory that aerobic and strength training are King and Queen when it comes to cardiovascular vitality, as well as delving deeper into the specifics of their impact on the inflammatory and immune responses.

A 2020 study of the effects of interval and strength training on CAD:

Traditionally, most CAD patients in cardiac rehab will undergo steady-state cardiovascular training with little to no resistance exercise.

However, a study published at the end of last year turned the spotlight on the use of a mixed-exercise training programme, combining interval aerobic training and strength training – much like the ones we prescribe here at CP+R!

The study didn’t just look at the benefits for cardiovascular health in general, it also went on to explore unchartered research territory for this type of training: the effects on inflammatory and immune response in cardiovascular disease patients.

The research looked at:

  • A 21-week programme consisting of mixed interval and resistance training sessions twice a week.
  • Participants with varying degrees of CAD on cardiac medications (mostly beta-blockers).

Here’s what the statistics had to say:

Some key findings from the training group were:

  • 7% increase in VO2peak (a gold standard marker of cardiovascular fitness).
  • 20% increase in peak knee extensor power (function of the muscles and tendons around the knee).
  • 12% reduction in total cholesterol.

But it doesn’t stop there!

Even more interesting was the study of a sub-group of participants who underwent further testing to look at their gene expression, inflammation, and immune function following the 21-week training programme.

The sub-group study revealed that:
2,038 genes were affected by the exercise programme. 

All 2,038 of these genes were linked to immune response and oxidative phosphorylation (how the body generates energy from oxygen AKA our ‘aerobic metabolism’).

The training programme increased the function of the small parts of the cells that control energy production (AKA ‘mitochondria’).

It also improved the body’s ability to produce energy aerobically due to the small mitochondria working harder.

There was a large increase in the small particles within the body that help to minimise inflammation.

And finally, the reduced inflammation led to certain white blood cells becoming healthier and more efficient.

So what does all of this mean?

This study is one of the first studies to show how exercise can halt progression (I.e. the mechanisms) of cardiovascular disease in those who already suffer from CAD. 

More specifically, the study provides a significant indication that a mixed-style approach to exercise training can boost aerobic energy production and immune function, as well as reducing inflammation – all of which can help stop cardiovascular disease in its tracks.

It’s pretty safe to say then that mixed-exercise training is a great element to add to most cardiac rehab programmes.

Words of wisdom:

“Exercise should be regarded as a tribute to the heart.”  – Gene Tunney.