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A recent analysis of 94,000 people in the U.K. Biobank found that moderate-intensity or vigorous exercise may reduce the risk of heart failure. Silke Woweries/Getty Images
  • Researchers gave participants in the United Kingdom an electronic device that tracked their exercise level and frequency 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 to any incidents of heart failure.
  • The researchers found that people who participated in moderate-intensity or vigorous exercise had a reduced risk of heart failure.
  • The study is the first to use exercise data compiled by a device rather than relying on the participants’ self-reported activity.

Since heart disease is a top cause of death, researchers are constantly looking for ways to reduce people’s likelihood of dying from heart failure.

A recent study published in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation examined the benefits of moderate and vigorous exercise in reducing heart failure risk.

The cohort study is a first of its kind since it utilized data from devices that measure physical activity levels and followed up within six years to check on the participants’ health status instead of relying on self-reports from the participants.

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

Some heart diseases include coronary heart disease, heart failure, and heart valve disease. These can all lead to cardiac arrest, which can be fatal.

The American Heart Association (AHA) defines heart failure, which is the basis of the study, 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 may increase a person’s heart failure risk since it causes plaque buildup in arteries, leading to a heart attack or stroke.
  • High blood pressure — hypertension can contribute to heart disease, and someone is considered at stage 1 hypertension when their systolic reading is between 130-139 and their diastolic reading is between 80-90.
  • Obesity and being overweight — being classed as overweight or having obesity can also elevate one’s 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 heart disease risk.

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

The key to this study was using data obtained objectively instead of relying on data that the participants self-reported, which the authors mentioned is subject to self-bias.

Approximately 94,000 people in the U.K. Biobank participated 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 were an average age of 56, had a history of cardiovascular disease.

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

The adults who performed between 150-300 minutes of moderate physical activity in the week they wore their tracking devices had a 63% reduced risk of heart failure. The adults who logged between 75-150 minutes of vigorous physical activity had a 66% reduction in heart failure risk.

“There are many potential ways that regular physical activity may reduce the risk of developing heart failure,” said co-lead author Prof. Frederick 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 participants were from the U.K. Biobank, not the U.K. general public. They say this is important since people with the U.K. Biobank tend to engage in more physical activity.

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

“Most of the patients were white, and the study does not provide a direct link between exercise and heart failure prevention,” she said. “Nevertheless, it is a powerful databank that highlights an important tool to decrease the risk of developing heart failure.”

The study findings emphasize the importance of incorporating activity into daily life. While some people may not be able to fit in exercising as frequently as others, regular movement is important for heart health.

“These findings indicate that every physical movement counts. A leisurely, 10-minute walk is better than sitting and no physical activity. And, if possible, try to walk a little faster, which increases the intensity and potential benefits of exercise,” said Prof. Ho.

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

Moderate-intensity activities include walking at 2.5mph, gardening, and water aerobics.

“We should be emphasizing the importance of moderate exercise to prevent heart failure,” Dr. Chaparro said.

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

“I recommend that my patients engage in moderate-intensity exercise of at least 45 minutes per day most days of the week,” Dr. Basit said. “Even though the study found 600 minutes per week as optimal, most patients, especially older patients, are not able to exercise to that level and would become dissuaded with a difficult to achieve goal.”

“Creating good exercise and dietary habits early will lead to a longer and healthier life. Studies like this go a long way to validate 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 could eventually lead to incorporating more physical activity.