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Sunday 27th May 2018

How exercise benefits the heart

29th October 2007

New research in the United States has given a greater insight into exactly why exercise lessens the risk of heart attack.


The study, led by Samia Mora of the Harvard Medical School, found that exercise had an impact on specific risk factors, including the propensity for inflammation in the arteries.

Mora's team looked at data from 27,000 women in the Women's Health Study and assessed them for a variety of risk factors. The participants, aged 45-90 years old, were followed for 11 years.

They found that regular physical activity was enormously beneficial in preventing heart attack and stroke, and that even modest changes in risk factors relating to inflammation and blood pressure could have a profound impact on preventing cardiovascular problems.

Those who reported the highest levels of physical activity were shown to be 40% less likely to have a heart attack or stroke than those reported the lowest levels of activity.

The women self-reported physical activity, weight, height, hypertension and diabetes.

What's more, the benefits begin to be seen with only two hours' physical activity a week, they study found.

The study measured levels of a variety of traditional risk factors, as well as those about which relatively little is known.

The largest contributor to lower cardiovascular risk came from such a group of risk factors which have to do with various signs of inflammatory activity in the body, which can be traced through the presence of certain molecules, proteins and chemicals.

Not everyone agrees about the contribution of such factors to cardiovascular risk, as not enough evidence has been gathered to make a case that will convince most experts.

However, Mora's study found that about 33% of the risk of heart attack or stroke came from the presence of these inflammation-related processes.

A further 27% of risk was contributed by high blood pressure, followed by lipids, body mass index, glucose abnormalities and minimal factors.

The highest level exercisers were burning 1,500 kilocalories a week, equivalent to more than five hours of moderately intense physical activity, like brisk walking, while the lowest level group did less that an hour of physical activity a week.

The risk of cardiovascular disease events decreased with higher levels of physical activity. Compared to the reference group, relative risk reductions were associated with burning 1,500, 600 to 1,499, 200 to 599 kcal per week of 41%, 32% and 27%, respectively.

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