It may be a no-brainer that exercise is good for your heart, but a new study conducted by Swedish researchers has found that as little as 1 hour of moderate exercise or 30 minutes of vigorous exercise a day could be enough to reduce the risk of heart failure by 46%.

“You do not need to run a marathon to gain the benefits of physical activity – even quite low levels of activity can give you positive effects,” says co-author Dr. Kasper Andersen. “Physical activity lowers many heart disease risk factors, which in turn lowers the risk of developing heart failure as well as other heart diseases.”

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Vigorous exercise can consist of running, walking briskly up a hill, aerobics, competitive sports or heavy shovelling.

Below is a list of examples of moderate exercise, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The following activities count as moderate exercise so long as they noticeably accelerate the heart rate and involve a moderate amount of effort:

  • Active involvement in games and sports with children
  • Brisk walking
  • Dancing
  • Gardening
  • Housework and domestic chores
  • Walking a dog.

Heart failure affects around 5.1 million people in the US and was a contributing factor to 1 in every 9 deaths in 2009. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that about half of people who develop heart failure die within 5 years of their diagnosis.

The condition occurs when the heart is weakened and unable to pump enough blood and oxygen around the body to support other organs.

The findings of the study, published in the American Heart Association (AHA) journal Circulation: Heart Failure, suggest that even seemingly low levels of exercise can have huge benefits when it comes to tackling this significant health problem.

A team of Swedish researchers studied 39,805 people who had completed a lifestyle and medical history questionnaire in 1997. The participants were between 20-90 years old, and at the beginning of the study, none of them had heart failure.

The questionnaires examined the participants’ levels of physical activity both at work and during leisure time and divided this into three categories: light, moderate and heavy. The questionnaires also recorded lifestyle habits such as smoking and alcohol consumption.

The researchers used the participants’ medical records to verify any diagnoses, hospitalizations and deaths during the follow-up period.

After assessing their total and leisure time activity at the beginning of the study, the researchers followed them until the end of 2010 to see how their activity related to their risk of developing heart failure.

They found that the more active a person was, the lower their risk of heart failure. The participants who had more than 1 hour of moderate exercise or 30 minutes of vigorous exercise per day had their risk of heart failure lowered by 46%.

The benefits of physical exercise were found by the researchers to be just as beneficial for men and women alike.

Although the findings of the study are reliant on the self-reporting of the participants, they do support the AHA recommendations of 150 minutes of moderately intense physical activity every week.

In order to lower blood pressure and reduce cholesterol – two heart failure risk factors – the AHA recommend three or four 40-minute sessions of moderately intense physical activity each week.

Dr. Andersen believes that the Western world promotes a sedentary lifestyle that is harmful to people’s health, and that changes to this way of living would be advantageous:

There are often no healthy alternative forms of transportation; in many buildings it is hard to find the stairs; and at home, television and computers encourage sedentary behavior. Making it easier and safer to walk, bicycle or take the stairs could make a big difference. Our research suggests that everyone could benefit from getting out there and moving every day.”

The study suggests that incorporating moderate exercise into a daily routine could be a simple task. With heart failure costing the US an estimated $32 billion a year, it is a simple task that could have long-lasting benefits to both individual and society alike.

Recently, Medical News Today reported on a new drug that was found to be 20% more effective than ACE inhibitors for treating heart failure.

Written by James McIntosh