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Ask The Doctor

Q. Which is more important in preventing heart attacks, diet or exercise?

A: Future studies are likely to show that exercise may be more important. A study in the medical journal Epidemiology (September 2002) reports that exercise lowers a blood test called C-Reactive Protein (CRP). Many researchers believe that CRP is a more dependable predictor of heart attacks than blood cholesterol levels (New England Journal of Medicine, November 14, 2002). CRP is a measure of inflammation, a swelling in the body that usually is caused by infection. A current theory is that you get an infection with a bacteria or virus, which raises blood levels of CRP and causes swelling and damage to the linings of your arteries. This causes cholesterol to deposit into the linings of arteries to form plaques that slow the flow of blood. Then the infection causes clots to form that completely block the arteries to cause a heart attack. How could exercise prevent heart attacks
by lowering CRP? Nobody knows yet, but perhaps the vigorous flow of blood cleans arteries, sweeps bacteria from their inner linings and prevents inflammation. Vigorous exercise cannot hurt a healthy heart, but check with your doctor because it could cause a heart attack if your heart is already damaged.