Harvard Heart Letter

Survival of the fittest

Knowing your cardiovascular fitness, and improving it, can help you live longer and better.

You can probably rattle off many of the truly wonderful benefits of exercise, which range from protecting the heart to extending life and preserving memory. But do you know how exercise and physical activity do these things? Neither do the experts.

We know that exercise strengthens the heart, makes blood vessels more flexible and responsive, helps control blood pressure and cholesterol, and improves muscles' use of sugar. It eases inflammation, an important behind-the-scenes player in the development of numerous chronic conditions. But wait, there's more: It helps blood flow more smoothly, improves the functioning of the autonomic nervous system, reduces stress, may boost confidence and body image, and...

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