How moderate exercise can help your heart health

  • Moderate physical activities such as walking, cycling and yoga can help people reduce their risk of heart failure, according to a new study.
  • Vigorous types of physical activity can also reduce the risk of heart failure.
  • But researchers say that very high amounts of vigorous exercise may offer no additional benefits.

Getting moderate physical activity more often during the week can help many Americans reduce their risk of heart failure, according to a new study.

Moderate exercise includes activities such as walking at a moderate or brisk pace, cycling, yoga, tennis, basketball, dancing and recreational swimming.

More vigorous types of physical activity could also reduce the risk of heart failure, but researchers say that very high amounts of vigorous exercise may not offer additional benefits.

In addition, they found that the benefits of vigorous physical activity were greatest when people also engaged in moderate-intensity activity during the week.

This research is consistent with others research showing the link between regular exercise and improved heart health – including a lower risk of heart disease, stroke and cardiovascular disease.

But by using activity monitors to track how often and in what way people moved during the week, the researchers were able to distinguish the separate heart benefits of moderate and vigorous physical activity.

In the study published on August 29 in the journal Circulationresearchers analyzed data between 2013 and 2015 on more than 94,000 adults enrolled in UK Biobank, a large research database that includes health information on half a million adults in the UK.

For the current study, participants wore an activity monitor on their wrist for seven consecutive days, 24 hours a day. This provided researchers with information about the intensity and duration of people’s physical activity.

None of the study participants had been diagnosed with heart failure or had previously had a heart attack.

The researchers followed the participants for an average of 6.1 years after their activity levels were measured to see how many people were diagnosed with heart failure during that time.

Heart failure occurs when the heart does not pump blood as well as it should. This can cause blood to pool, which causes fluid to collect in the lungs, making it difficult for a person to breathe.

Approximately 6.2 million Americans you have heart failure, a condition that contributed to more than 379,000 deaths in 2018, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The new study suggests that regular physical activity can reduce the risk of developing heart failure.

Researchers found that people who did 150 to 300 minutes of moderate physical activity per week had a 63% lower risk of heart failure.

Those who logged 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous physical activity per week had a 66% lower risk of heart failure.

Both refer to people who have done little or no moderate to vigorous physical activity.

These amounts of physical activity are the minimum recommended as of 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.

John Shuna Jr., Ph.D., associate professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Ore., said much research on the protective effects of physical activity against cardiovascular disease has focused on acute conditions such as heart attack and stroke and related deaths.

But “this is really the first study to demonstrate that objectively measured physical activity consistent with meeting current aerobic activity guidelines significantly reduces the risk of heart failure,” he said.

The study results also show that for both moderate and vigorous physical activity, some heart-related benefits occur even at low levels of activity.

“These findings show that every physical movement matters. A leisurely 10-minute walk is better than sitting and no physical activity,” study author Frederick K. Ho, PhD, a professor of public health at the University of Glasgow in Glasgow, Scotland, said in a news release.

However, “if possible, try to walk a little faster, which increases the intensity and potential benefits of the exercise,” he added.

The results also suggest that exceeding the minimum recommended level of moderate physical activity may provide greater protection against heart failure.

The researchers found that the risk of heart failure continued to decrease with moderate levels of physical activity of up to 600 minutes per week. After that, the benefits plateau.

For vigorous physical activity, the benefits are greatest at 75 to 150 minutes per week, but only if people do at least 300 minutes per week of moderate physical activity.

Some people choose vigorous exercise because they can get a more intense workout in less time. But the results of this study suggest that vigorous activity alone may not be enough to provide the greatest benefit to the heart.

The new study is observational, so it cannot prove that certain patterns of physical activity directly reduce the risk of developing heart failure. But it fits with a growing body of research on heart-related benefits of exercise.

Another limitation of the study is that the majority of participants in the UK Biobank were white, so further research will be needed to see how physical activity affects the risk of heart failure in other groups of people.

Overall, the new survey supports 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommendation that people should “move more and sit less throughout the day” – specifically by doing moderate to vigorous physical activity.

Exercise at this intensity has been shown to have the most benefits for heart health and other aspects of health.

How people respond to directions can be done in a variety of ways, with any number of physical activities.

“To safely achieve these goals, people can choose any combination of moderate- or vigorous-intensity activities that they are comfortable and familiar with,” Shuna said.

One of the most commonly recommended activities is walking, he said, which carries a low risk of injury.

In addition, “it’s an accessible activity for people of all ages and a spectrum of disabilities,” he said, noting that the elderly and disabled can often walk successfully.

There are also many moderate physical activities that you might not consider “exercise,” such as gardening and yard work, some types of housework, playing with children, and shoveling snow.

Physical activity is also good for people who already have heart disease, although people with heart disease or other medical conditions should check with their doctor before starting a new exercise program.

“Physical activity is important before and after you develop heart disease,” said Dr. Eugene C. DePasquale, a cardiologist at USC’s Keck Medicine, “because there is evidence that if you do physical activity after heart attack or after you develop heart failure, it can actually help improve your long-term success.

The new study also suggests that once you’ve consistently met the physical activity guidelines, there may be additional benefit from adding more moderate physical activity — up to 600 minutes a week in total.

But to get there, you’ll want to first develop a habit of regular physical activity, which is often the biggest challenge for many people starting out.

Shuna said a lot of research has been done to try to figure out what helps people stick with exercise — so far, “no magic bullet.”

Also, what motivates one person to bike to work every day may not help another person get to the gym in the morning.

However, Shuna said one thing that has been shown to predict whether people will stick with their physical activity program is social support.

“Individuals who are surrounded by friends and/or family who socially support physical activity … will have greater success sticking to regular exercise and physical activity programs,” he said.

These supportive people may be physically active themselves, he said, or they may simply continue to encourage you to keep moving throughout the week.

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