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Joep Perk, a professor of health sciences at Sweden's Kalmar University and spokesman for the European Society of Cardiology, said two thirds of heart patients in line for an angioplasty could probably get better benefits by regularly working up a sweat.
Experts say less than 20 percent of heart patients get the recommended amount of exercise -- about 30 minutes of moderate activity five times a week.
Perk said doctors who performed angioplasties on their patients without asking them to change their lifestyles were ignoring the fundamental problem. "It would be like getting rid of the most troubled rust spots on a car without doing anything to stop more rust from appearing tomorrow."
Still, doctors admitted that persuading patients to exercise instead of simply going in for an angioplasty, which can take less than a day, would be a tough sell.
"Most patients want the quick fix," Cannon said. Exercise may improve patients' hearts better than an angioplasty, but it may also take months or even longer for patients to feel the benefits. "It's a lot easier to get your artery fixed than it is to exercise every day."
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