Exercise helps us avoid heart failure

3 September 2014

By exercising at moderate intensity for one hour, or exercising vigorously for 30 minutes a day, it is possible to decrease the risk of heart failure by 46 per cent. This is shown in a new study led by researchers at Uppsala University in cooperation with researchers at Karolinska intstitutet. The findings have been published in the American Heart Associations scientific journal Circulation: Heart Failure.

Heart failure is a common and serious illness that accounts for around two per cent of the total health care costs in industrialised countries. The risk of dying within five years of diagnosis is between 30 and 50 per cent.

Swedish researchers have studied 39,805 people between the ages of 20 and 90 who did not have heart failure when the study started in 1997. The researchers assessed their total- and leisure time activities at the beginning of the study and followed them to see how this was related to their subsequent risk of developing heart failure.

The researchers found that the group with the highest leisure time activity (more than one hour of moderate or half an hour of vigorous physical activity) had a 46 percent lower risk of developing heart failure. They also found that physical activity was equally beneficial for men and women.

The researchers could also see that many of the participants that had developed heart failure were elderly, often men, with lower levels of education, a higher body mass index and waist-hip ratio, and a history of heart attack, diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

‘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 Kasper Andersen, study co-author and researcher at Uppsala University.

‘Physical activity lowers many heart disease risk factors, which in turn lowers the risk of developing heart failure as well as other heart diseases.’

Study participants completed questionnaires that included information about lifestyle, physical activity, smoking and alcohol habits, and medication use. Diagnoses, hospitalizations and deaths were verified using participants’ medical records.

‘The Western world promotes a sedentary lifestyle’, Andersen says. ‘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’, says Kasper Andersen.

Last modified: 2021-02-14