Exercise helps people with heart disease more than healthy people

Cardiovascular disease sufferers benefit greatly from physical activity.

People with heart problems benefit more from exercise than healthy people. That’s the finding of a new study published in the European Heart Journal.

Using data from almost half a million people enrolled in the Korean National Health Insurance Services Health Screening Cohort, researchers divided participants into those who had cardiovascular disease and those who did not.

They also looked at how much physical activity people undertook and followed them for six years. This data was collected by survey and converted into MET units (metabolic equivalent task).

After the six years, the researchers found that people with cardiovascular disease benefited more from exercise than those without.

The results showed that for every 500 MET minutes per week, the risk of death was reduced by 14 per cent for people with CVD. For healthy people without CVD, the risk was only reduced by 7 per cent.

Increasing your physical activity

“One way you can achieve 500 MET-minutes a week is to do brisk walking for 30 minutes, five times a week,” said co-author and cardiologist Dr Si-Hyuck Kang.

“If you are very busy and have no time to work out during weekdays, the other way to achieve approximately 500 MET-minutes a week is to do vigorous physical activity such as climbing hills with no loads for 75 minutes once a week. You can achieve 1500 MET-minutes a week by doing brisk walking for 30 minutes five times a week plus climbing hills for 2.5 hours once a week.”

The European Society of Cardiology guideline for cardiovascular disease prevention is 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity aerobic exercise per week.

“We found that approximately half of the people in the study did not reach the recommended level of leisure-time physical activity, and a quarter had a totally sedentary lifestyle,” said lead author Dr Sang-Woo Jeong.

“People with cardiovascular disease had lower levels of physical activity than those without, but the more exercise people did, the lower their risk of death during the six years of follow-up. The main new finding of this study is that people with cardiovascular disease benefit from a physically active lifestyle to a greater extent than healthy people without cardiovascular disease.”

Why more of a benefit for heart disease sufferers?

One reason the researchers believe people with CVD may see more benefit from physical activity is that they are more likely to be sedentary. Thus, changing their lifestyles to become physically active gives them added benefits.  As stated in the study’s conclusion, “While individuals with pre-existing CVD were less likely to be physically active, their expected benefit from physical activity was greater than that of individuals without CVD.”

In addition, aerobic exercise is great at controlling CVD risk factors such as high blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose, as well as helping to reduce inflammation.

“Doctors should emphasise the importance of a physically active lifestyle for patients with cardiovascular disease,” said Dr. Kang.

“They should be encouraged to maintain as much physical activity as possible. People who are physically active sleep better, feel better and function better. We would like to stress that physical activity is an economic way to live longer, healthier and happier, with little adverse effects.”

Reference

Jeong, Sang-Woo et al. (2019.) ‘Mortality reduction with physical activity in patients with and without cardiovascular disease.’ European Heart Journal. doi:10.1093/eurheartj/ehz564

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