Moderate or vigorous exercise can reduce the risk of heart failure

Share on Pinterest
A recent UK Biobank analysis of 94,000 people found that moderate-intensity exercise or vigorous exercise can reduce the risk of heart failure. Silke Woweries/Getty Images
  • Researchers gave participants in the UK an electronic device that tracked their level and frequency of exercise for a week, in a large study of nearly 95,000 people.
  • The researchers later accessed the participants’ health records to see how their exercise data compared with possible cases of heart failure.
  • Researchers found that people who participated in moderate or vigorous exercise had a reduced risk of heart failure.
  • The study is the first to use exercise data collected from a device, rather than relying on self-reported activity by participants.

Because heart disease is a leading cause of death, researchers are constantly looking for ways to reduce the chance that people will die from heart failure.

A recent study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association Circulation investigated the benefits of moderate and vigorous exercise in reducing the risk of heart failure.

The cohort study is the first of its kind in that it uses data from devices that measure physical activity levels and follows up over six years to examine participants’ health status, rather than relying on self-reports by participants.

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease is the leading cause of death in adults in the United States, overtaking cancer. Nearly 700,000 adults in the U.S. die of heart disease each year, which is 1 in every 5 death cases.

Some heart diseases include coronary heart disease, heart failure, and heart valve disease. All of these can lead to cardiac arrest, which can be fatal.

The American Heart Association (AHA) defines heart failure, which is the basis of the research, as “a chronic, progressive condition in which the heart muscle is unable to pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs for blood and oxygen.”

The AHA describes several factors that contribute to heart failure:

  • High blood cholesterol can increase a person’s risk of heart failure because it causes plaque to build up in the arteries, leading to heart attack or stroke.
  • High blood pressure – hypertension can contribute to heart disease and someone is considered to be stage 1 hypertension when their systolic reading is between 130-139 and their diastolic reading is between 80-90.
  • Obesity and overweight – Being classified as overweight or obese can also increase the risk of heart failure.

Certain hereditary factors can predispose someone to a higher risk of heart disease. For example, African-Americans and Mexican-Americans have a higher risk of heart disease.

The AHA recommends “at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity” to promote heart health.

The key to this study is the use of objectively obtained data, rather than relying on self-reported data from participants, which the authors mention is subject to self-bias.

Around 94,000 people at the UK Biobank took part in the study and wore electronic devices that tracked their heart rate and activity levels for a week. At the time of the study, none of the participants, who had an average age of 56, had a history of cardiovascular disease.

Over six years, study researchers accessed the participants’ activity information and health records to see what percentage of them had heart failure. The study compared participants who did moderate or vigorous physical activity with those who did minimal or no physical activity.

Adults who did between 150-300 minutes of moderate physical activity during the week they wore their trackers had a 63% reduced risk of heart failure. Adults who had between 75-150 minutes of vigorous physical activity had a 66% reduction in heart failure risk.

“There are many potential ways in which regular physical activity can reduce the risk of developing heart failure,” said one of the lead authors, Professor Frederic K. Ho, a lecturer in public health at the University of Glasgow in Scotland.

“For example, physical activity helps prevent weight gain and related cardiometabolic conditions, such as high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes, all of which are risk factors for heart failure,” he explained.

The authors note that the participants were from the UK Biobank and not the general UK public. They say this is important because people with UK Biobank tend to be more physically active.

Dr. Sandra Chaparro, medical director of Advanced Heart Failure at Baptist Health’s Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute, who was not involved in this study, spoke with Medical News Today and indicated a limitation of the study.

“Most of the patients were white, and the study did not provide a direct link between exercise and heart failure prevention,” she said. “However, this is a powerful database that highlights an important tool for reducing the risk of developing heart failure.”

The results of the study highlight the importance of incorporating activity into daily life. While some people may not be able to fit in exercise as often as others, regular movement is important for heart health.

“These findings show that every physical movement matters. A leisurely 10-minute walk is better than sitting without physical activity. And, if possible, try to walk a little faster, which increases the intensity and potential benefits of the exercise,” said Prof Ho.

Examples of vigorous activities include running, cycling at 10mph or faster, swimming laps and jumping rope.

Moderate-intensity activities include walking at 2.5 miles per hour, gardening, and water aerobics.

“We need to emphasize the importance of moderate exercise in preventing heart failure,” said Dr. Chaparro.

Dr. Majid Basit, a cardiologist at Memorial Hermann Medical Group in Houston, who was not involved in this study, also shared with MNT his recommendations to incorporate exercise into their lifestyle.

“I recommend that my patients engage in at least 45 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per day most days of the week,” said Dr. Basit. “Although the study found 600 minutes per week to be optimal, most patients, especially older patients, are unable to exercise to this level and would be dissuaded from a difficult goal to achieve.”

“Establishing good exercise and nutrition habits early will lead to a longer, healthier life.” Studies like this go a long way to confirm the benefit of a well-rounded healthy lifestyle centered around exercise and nutrition.
– Dr. Majid Basit

People trying to incorporate more physical activity can take small steps by walking upstairs instead of taking the elevator or parking further away while shopping. Taking small steps can eventually lead to incorporating more physical activity.

Leave a Comment