There's mounting evidence that exercise may be a better fix for clogged arteries than angioplasty, although persuading patients to be more physically active is the tough part, experts said at a meeting of the European Society of Cardiology on Sunday.
For example, one 2004 study, led by Rainer Hambrtecht of Klinikum Links der Weser in Bremen, Germany, found that nine out of 10 heart patients who bicycled regularly rid themselves of their cardiovascular troubles a year after beginning the exercise program, compared to 70 percent of patients who got angioplasty but didn't exercise.
"It's difficult to convince people to exercise instead of having an angioplasty, but it works," said Hambrecht, who spoke to the Associated Press from the meeting held in Barcelona, Spain.
Other research has shown that a third of heart attacks and strokes -- 280,000 U.S. heart deaths -- might be prevented if patients walked briskly for a total of 2.5 hours a week. However, experts say that less than 20 percent of heart patients get the recommended 30 minutes of exercise five times weekly.
Exercise lowers artery-clogging LDL (bad) cholesterol while boosting levels of "good" HDL cholesterol, it helps the body deal with sugar better, and it breathes new health into blood vessel walls, the AP noted.
But getting patients to get up off the couch and exercise regularly is a tough sell when compared to getting an angioplasty, which involves opening arteries with a tiny balloon and then inserting a mesh tube called a stent. These operations typically take less than a day in the hospital.
"Most patients want the quick fix," Dr. Christopher Cannon, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard University and spokesman for the American College of Cardiology, told the AP. "It's a lot easier to get your artery fixed than it is to exercise every day."