What’s The Point In Exercise If You Have A Heart Attack Anyway?

Faye Prior | 2014-10-04 06:09:30

One of the most pronounced benefits of being regularly active is the protective effects it has on the heart and lungs, preventing thousands of people from having a heart attack. But it’s not a signed and done deal, we can’t rely on exercise alone to prevent all heart attacks, so what’s the point in doing it in the first place if you’re potentially going to have a heart attack anyway?

Of course, not forgetting all the other benefits of being active like the prevention of obesity, diabetes and dementia, exercise can actually change the characteristics of a heart attack when it occurs, in animals anyway for mean time.

In studies from rats, which in general prove to be true in humans, being regularly active before a heart attack has profound benefits on the structure and function of the heart after a heart attack. Unfortunately it’s hard for researchers to replicate these studies in humans because it would be unethical to kidnap people from the gym and give and them a heart attack, and on the other hand it could take decades to sit around waiting for participants to drop like flies.

But to put it simply, rats who exercised regularly had heart attacks that were less severe, less of the heart’s tissues were affected and the rats were less likely to die from their heart attack. The heart functioned better after the heart attack too, and rats tended to lose less of their fitness, compared to rats who hadn’t been active before their heart attack.

So, even when being regularly active can’t prevent a heart attack from happening, it seems it can at least do you a favour, protecting you from a serious heart attack, and instead increasing the likelihood that you’ll be able to return to your normal life sooner than expected.

Faye Prior (Researcher)


Bozi et al., (2013). Exercise training prior to myocardial infarction attenuates cardiac deterioration and cardiomyocyte dysfunction in rats. Clinics, 68, 549-56.

de Waard & Duncker, (2009). Prior exercise improves survival, infarct healing, and left ventricular function after myocardial infarction. Journal of Applied Physiology, 107, 928-36.

Rodrigues et al., (2014). Cardioprotection afforded by exercise training prior to myocardial infarction is associated with autonomic function improvement. BMC Cardiovascular Disorders, 14:84.