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Study: Any Exercise Helps the Heart

Earlier this week, we posted on our Facebook fan page and Twitter account an article from the Los Angeles Times about how a new study confirms that even a little exercise helps prevent heart disease. The study is gaining some pretty significant traction in the medical community. We found this article by Dr. Howard LeWine of Harvard Medical School in response to all the media buzz, and thought we'd share.

News Review From Harvard Medical School -- Study: Any Exercise Helps the Heart

Even small amounts of daily exercise help to reduce the risk of heart disease. That's the conclusion of a new review of research on the topic. Some benefit was seen with as little as 10 to 15 minutes of exercise a day. The review combined the results of 9 previous studies. All of them included information on exercise habits. Researchers looked at people who did moderate-intensity exercise (such as walking) for a least 150 minutes a week. That is the current recommended minimum. People in this group had a 14% lower rate of heart disease than those who did no exercise. Benefits of exercise were strongest among women. The study appeared in the journal Circulation. USA Today wrote about it August 2.

By Howard LeWine, M.D.
Harvard Medical School

What is the Doctor's Reaction?
Yes, we all know that exercise is good for you. But does more exercise actually prevent coronary heart disease? Not everyone has been convinced of the direct link.

People who exercise tend to be more conscious of what they eat. They are less likely to smoke. They also pay more attention to their health. Maybe that's why they are healthier.

This very comprehensive study gives us a definitive answer. It found that any amount of exercise decreases your risk of chest pain, heart attack and death from heart disease. In fact, people who don't exercise at all can decrease their risk of heart disease with as little as 10 to 15 minutes of exercise per day.

The researchers set out to define how much exercise it takes to decrease your risk of heart disease. Their benchmark was the recommended minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. This is exercise that a person performs during non-work hours. It is often called leisure-time physical activity.

According to this study, people who get an average of 150 minutes per week of exercise reduce their risk of coronary heart disease by 14%. For people who average 300 minutes per week, the risk reduction improves to 20%.

Women appear to benefit more than men. The researchers found that women had a greater reduction in heart disease from similar amounts and intensity of exercise. This was unexpected. Other studies have not shown a sex difference. Also there is not a good biological explanation to account for this.

What Changes Can I Make Now?

Do you engage in any leisure-time physical activity that raises your heart rate and makes you sweat a little? If you don't, get started. Take a short walk every day, mow the lawn or plant a garden. Do something every day, even if it is only for a few minutes.

Your next goal is 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week. That is less than 2% of the total minutes in a week! (There are 10,080 minutes per week.)

Moderate-intensity exercise can be determined by heart rate or METs. MET stands for metabolic equivalent. One MET is the amount of energy you burn when you are sitting quietly.

Heart rate -- Moderate-intensity exercise raises your heart rate to 60% to 75% of your maximum heart rate. The simplest formula for maximum heart rate is 220 minute your age.

METs -- Moderate-intensity exercise means 3 to 5.9 METs. Examples of activities that increase your metabolic rate to this level include:
  • Walking at 3 to 3.4 miles per hour
  • Riding a stationary bike with light effort
  • Riding an outdoor bicycle at 7 to 10 miles per hour
Is there really no way for you to carve out 150 minutes per week? You will likely get similar benefits with 100 minutes of high-intensity exercise per week. With high-intensity exercise, your heart rate exceeds 75% of your maximum. High-intensity exercise hits at least 6 METs.

What Can I Expect Looking to the Future?

Researchers will continue to explore whether some types of exercise help us more than others. Right now, the consensus is that all moderate-intensity aerobic exercise has the same effect as long as it uses the same amount of energy.

However, some studies suggest that interval training may reduce heart disease risk more than moderate- and even high-intensity aerobic exercise. Interval training includes bursts of extremely high workloads for short periods of time. These high workloads temporarily demand a lot of energy. The need is to great that energy can only be delivered anaerobically (without the use of oxygen). During aerobic exercise, there is always enough oxygen available to meet energy demands.

How often do you exercise each week? Do you have a favorite leisure-time physical activity? Leave a comment!

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