How starting exercise during middle age could help cut the risk of heart failure

New research suggests that starting or increasing physical activity levels later in life could cut the risk of heart disease. — AFP pic
New research suggests that starting or increasing physical activity levels later in life could cut the risk of heart disease. — AFP pic

NEW YORK, May 17 — New US research has found that starting or stopping exercise during middle age can significantly affect a person’s risk of heart failure within just six years.

Carried out by researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine, the large-scale study looked at data from 11, 351 participants with an average age of 60 to see what effect changing physical activity levels in middle age had on heart failure risk.

The participants were monitored annually for an average of 19 years for cardiovascular disease events such as heart attack, stroke and heart failure. The team also asked participants to complete questionnaires at the first and third visits, which were six years apart, to assess their activity levels.

The levels were then categorised as poor, intermediate or recommended, in alignment with guidelines issued by the American Heart Association.

The participants were classified as doing the recommended amount of exercise if they did at least 75 minutes per week of vigorous intensity exercise, or at least 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity exercise.

Those doing one to 74 minutes per week of vigorous intensity or one to 149 minutes per week of moderate exercise per week were classified as intermediate, while those who did no exercise at all were classified as poor.

The results showed that those who achieved the recommended activity levels at both the first and third visits showed the biggest decrease in their risk of heart failure, 31 per cent, compared to those with poor activity levels.

Those who increased their physical activity level from poor to intermediate or recommended, or from intermediate to recommended, also benefited from a 12 percent decreased risk of heart failure, compared to those with consistently poor or intermediate activity ratings.

However, the results also showed that decreasing physical activity levels also affected the risk of heart failure, increasing it by 18 per cent in those participants who reported doing less exercise from visit one to visit three, compared with those with consistently recommended or intermediate activity levels.

The researchers did note that their study was observational, meaning that the results can’t show a direct cause-and-effect link between exercise and heart failure, however they added that the findings still suggest that it may never be too late to reduce the risk of heart failure by starting moderate exercise.

“The population of people with heart failure is growing because people are living longer and surviving heart attacks and other forms of heart disease,” commented co-author Roberta Florido. “Unlike other heart disease risk factors like high blood pressure or high cholesterol, we don’t have specifically effective drugs to prevent heart failure, so we need to identify and verify effective strategies for prevention and emphasize these to the public.”

Heart failure affects an estimated 5 million to 6 million Americans, and is the leading cause of hospitalisations in those over 65. Risk factors for the condition include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking and a family history.

The results can be found published online in the journal Circulation. — AFP-Relaxnews

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