One in nine people living the European Union is diagnosed with a cardiovascular disease and the costs of treating nearly 50 million people in the EU amount to approx. EUR 210 billion a year. Every year, cardiovascular diseases cause 3.9 million deaths in Europe, making it the leading cause of mortality under the age of 65. According to experts, this can be changed by influencing the lifestyle, including the level of physical activity, which is one of the important elements in the prevention of diseases of affluence, including many heart diseases.
Smoking, alcohol consumption and high blood cholesterol are invariably the main risk factors for heart diseases but factors such as overweight, obesity and diabetes have increased significantly in recent decades. A sedentary lifestyle and limited physical activity are one of the most important risk factors for cardiovascular diseases. According to the latest research, the low level of physical activity of Poles, especially during the pandemic, is alarming. Due to the lockdown, as many as 43% of sports enthusiasts limited their training which, according to experts, was quickly reflected in the health condition of the entire society.
– Currently only 63% of Poles take up physical activity at least once a month. This means that 37% do not move at all – they do not even go for walks. This is the straight path to many heart diseases, including the risk of a heart attack even among people who are currently healthy. Meanwhile, regular physical activity strengthens the heart muscle, delays its ageing, improves blood circulation, oxygenates the body, lowers blood pressure, and reduces the likelihood of atherosclerosis. Interestingly, physical activity is recommended not only as a prophylaxis of heart diseases, but, in an appropriate form, also as a form of therapy in most cardiovascular diseases, e.g.: common arterial hypertension – says Łukasz Małek, MD, Ph.D., sports cardiologist.
Remote work stresses Poles
Numerous epidemiological, clinical, and experimental data show the connection between psychosociological factors and cardiovascular diseases. It is believed that both acute and chronic stress may contribute to the development of arterial hypertension and trigger the occurrence of a heart attack, arrhythmias, or sudden cardiac death. According to the “Poles and stress” report by ARC Rynek i Opinia, for 48% of Poles the most common reason for feeling stressed is the pandemic. The nationwide remote work, which has been going on for almost a year now, contributed to its increase. Currently 38% of professionally active Poles work from home, of which over 60% experience the negative effects of performing official duties in such conditions. The latest MultiSport Index 2020 survey confirms that physical activity mitigates the negative effects of “home office”: in the group of physically active employees, as many as 42% admit that they do not feel any negative effects of remote work, while among employees who do not exercise only 29% give such an answer. Poles also quickly appreciated the positive effect of physical activity on their mental condition: 41% of those who exercise believe that physical activity reduces the stress associated with the pandemic.
Lack of exercise affects the heart
Lockdowns and the related closure of sports and recreational facilities made it difficult for Poles to lead an active lifestyle. According to Łukasz Małek, MD, Ph.D., for many people the coronavirus pandemic is a period of compulsory and too long detraining. Research shows that if this condition continues, it will cause more negative changes than it may seem, also to the heart.
– After discontinuation of physical activity, muscle mass decreases very quickly – even by 10% per month. The body's efficiency decreases by 0.5% every day. Insulin resistance is increasing, which affects the muscle's ability to use glucose and worsens muscle atrophy. If we do not adapt our diet to the reduced level of physical activity, we will quickly accumulate body fat. The entire sequence of negative events described above affects our immune system, reducing its efficiency, which is accompanied by the appearance of inflammatory markers in the blood. Our heart begins to work differently. After just a few days it is characterised by a faster resting rhythm, increased blood pressure and changes in blood circulation and blood viscosity. Finally, the observed changes in the body shape or the lack of post-workout neurohormone release cause a decrease in wellbeing, anger, or frustration – summarises Łukasz Małek, MD, Ph.D.
Currently, 23% of active Poles admit that their main motivation to exercise is health. A holistic approach to it ensures regular, conscious exercise. For this reason, in November last year, the WHO updated its recommendations for the minimum level of physical activity, which currently amounts to 150 to 300 minutes of moderate or vigorous exercise per week. As experts say, any activity, regardless of its intensity, has a prophylactic character. According to recent studies, there is no safe upper limit of physical exercise as long as we maintain an appropriate recovery period – the greater the number, the better for the heart, the most important muscle in our body.