The Benefits of Exercise to Prevent Heart Disease in Aussie Men

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) – often called ‘heart disease’ – is an umbrella term that includes diseases and conditions which affect the heart and blood vessels: coronary heart disease (the common cause of a heart attack), heart failure, arrhythmias, angina, and others.

Cardiovascular disease remains the leading cause of death worldwide and in Australia. Approximately 26% of all deaths and 11% of all hospitalisations are attributed to CVD in Australia, with more than 80% of hospitalisations being for people aged over 55 years.

Very high rates of CVD exist for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and those living in remote areas (including farming communities).


Heart disease kills around 40% more men than women and more men are admitted to hospital for CVD each year. Men are also about twice as likely as women to have a heart attack.

Please call triple zero (000) immediately and ask for an ambulance if you suspect that you or someone else is having a heart attack.

Heart disease is strongly linked to risk factors such as smoking, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, physical inactivity, overweight/obesity, and depression.

Unfortunately, men can sometimes neglect their health (“it can’t happen to me”) or they may ignore the symptoms of CVD which includes:

  • difficulty catching your breath after moderate physical exertion, like walking up a flight of stairs, or shortness of breath
  • a sense of discomfort or squeezing in your chest that lasts for 30 minutes to a few hours
  • unexplained pain in your upper torso, neck, and jaw
  • a heartbeat that is faster, slower, or more irregular than usual
  • dizziness or fainting

Men often put off going to their doctor or other health professional, however, a simple visit to a doctor or health professional can set a man on the road to better health and the avoidance of a heart attack.


Exercise is wonderful for the heart, both to prevent CVD in the first place, and to ‘rehabilitate’ the heart after a big event such as a heart attack. The National Heart Foundation of Australia has a range of information on exercise for people with CVD.

Increasingly, exercise has been shown to be beneficial for the heart for men experiencing cancer or mental health issues. The heart is a muscle and like any other muscle, it benefits from exercise. With exercise, it will become slower but stronger, and often reduce blood pressure. Exercise can also help the body to process cholesterol, sugars, and fats which improves overall physiological health.

It’s important to remember that there are many smart fitness devices on the market now (watches, smartphone apps) that can be very helpful to monitor your heart rate, but these often need to be adjusted for people with CVD. For example, it is often inappropriate or even unsafe to use the heart rate guides on these smart devices if you have CVD. If you need assistance monitoring your cardiovascular health, an accredited exercise professional is optimally placed to provide you individualised advice.

mental health


The main forms of exercise that are known to improve heart health in men are aerobic exercise and strength exercise. Aerobic exercise includes walking, jogging (if you are able), cycling and swimming, and any variations of these such as golf or tennis. These modes of exercise can also be done in a gym using a treadmill or gym bike, aiming for at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week, or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity.

Strength exercises include lifting weights, using machines, rubber bands, balls, or simple equipment such as a park bench or a wall, or even using your body-weight as the ‘resistance’. It is important for people with CVD that your exercise program is designed based on an appropriate assessment prior to commencement.


This latest eBook by Exercise & Sports Science Australia (ESSA) has been designed to encourage Australian men to become more active for their physical and mental health. It also covers the benefits of exercise for a wide range of common conditions adult men may encounter.


If you are someone who already has cardiovascular disease, then your doctor or other health professional should have recommended some form of exercise to you. The first thing to do is to get proper advice and a personalised exercise plan by an Accredited Exercise Physiologist.

ESSA has an online directory of more than 6,500 Accredited Exercise Physiologists around Australia who are highly trained to support you to develop and implement a safe, effective and personalised exercise plan.

Accredited Exercise Physiologists will understand the nature of whatever CVD you may have, and be able to properly assess you, design a plan suited to your needs, and then support you through not only the good times, but other times that can be challenging.

It is important that you monitor any symptoms that you may experience during or immediately after exercise and convey these to your exercise professional as soon as possible. In that way, any new or worsening of your condition can be dealt with appropriately so that you can quickly get back to exercise and a healthy lifestyle.

Click here to find an Accredited Exercise Physiologist near you.

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Written by Professor Steve Selig, Accredited Exercise Physiologist and ESSA Fellow.