Walk Your Way to Heart Health

Heart failure risk may be reduced in men who exercise at moderate levels

(RxWiki News) If Goldilocks took her love of moderation all the way to exercise, she might have discovered that her heart was "just right."

A recent study from Sweden found that older men who exercised in moderation had a lower risk of heart failure than men who exercised at either low or high levels.

"Because participants in the [study] also provided information about their physical activity at age 30, as well as at the time of enrollment around age 60, we were able to examine the long-term impacts of physical activity on heart failure," said lead study author Andrea Bellavia, MSc, of the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, in a press release. "We found that recent activity may be more important for heart failure protection than past physical activity levels."

Rafael E. Gonzalez, MD, a cardiologist at Baylor Scott & White Health in Round Rock, TX, explained why men who reported high levels of exercise were more at risk of heart failure than men who reported moderate levels.

"My feelings are that, while extreme exercise burns a lot of calories, it is just that: extreme and we were not 'built' to run 50 miles," Dr. Gonzales told dailyRx News. "You can train the body to do almost anything — it does not mean it’s healthy."

This study included 33,012 Swedish men with an average age of 60.

These men self-reported their recent exercise levels and estimated their exercise levels in the 30 years prior to the study.

Oddly, Bellavia and team found that the men who exercised a moderate amount were the least likely to be at risk for heart failure.

Moderate exercise even translated to a lower risk of heart failure than the risk for men who exercised at high levels.

According to these researchers, the ideal amount of exercise seemed to be walking or bicycling for 20 minutes daily.

In the patients who did ultimately experience heart failure, moderate exercise also appeared to delay it.

Those who walked or cycled at least 20 minutes daily were, on average, eight months older when they had their first heart failure than those who exercised more or less.

"The heart needs to work to be healthy, but the body of evidence is starting to suggest that moderate exercise is all we need," Dr. Gonzales noted. "This is GOOD news. We don’t have to run 7 miles a day to be healthy, we just need to walk for 20 minutes — we can all do this."

According to Bellavia and team, increased stress put on the heart during high levels of exercise could explain this outcome.

In an editorial about this study, Steven J. Keteyian, PhD, and Clinton A. Brawner, PhD, of the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, wrote that, this study "reinforces the main 'take-home' message that a moderate level of total physical activity is an important behavioral strategy that assists with not only the treatment of [heart failure] but its prevention as well."

Dr. Gonzales made some recommendations for any adult who wants to begin a heart-healthy exercise program.

"I start by telling them the new hot quote in cardiology: 'sitting is the new smoking,'" Dr. Gonzales said. "For most adults, I start by telling them that they don’t have to run 5 miles. Just start by walking a mile in 20 to 30 minutes (not a very fast pace), then try to improve your times. I tell people we are made to walk — walking 1 to 3 miles a day will not injure you."

The study and editorial were published Aug. 12 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology: Heart Failure.

No funding sources or conflicts of interest were disclosed.

Review Date: 
August 12, 2015