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Exercise independently linked to heart health and living longer

Media release

Curtin University researchers have found exercise can significantly protect against heart disease, regardless of lifestyle factors such as smoking, cholesterol and abdominal obesity.

Cyclists participating in a charity bike riding event

Professor Satvinder Dhaliwal from Curtin’s School of Public Health said the study followed 8,662 Australian men and women with no previous history of heart disease, diabetes or stroke, for 15 years from 1989.

Subjects were asked about their exercise patterns and were graded from 0 to 7 using a composite recreational physical activity score – with the highest end of the scale reflecting those who had engaged in vigorous exercise, less vigorous exercise and recreational walking in the preceding fortnight.

A total of 610 of the 8,662 subjects died during the course of the 15 year study, 126 due to cardiovascular disease (CVD) and 85 because of coronary heart disease (CHD).

“We knew that physical activity played a role in preventing cardiovascular disease but we wanted to see how much of a role it played – could a lack of it stand separate as a contributing factor for CVD or was it part of other common lifestyle factors such as obesity?” Professor Dhaliwal said.

The research found that those with higher levels of fitness or conditioning had smaller occurrences of cardiovascular disease events compared with those who engaged in less exercise.

Furthermore it was determined that regardless of other lifestyle factors – including weight and obesity – exercise was a standalone predictor of cardiovascular mortality.

Even exercising moderately could reduce your risk of CVD by 15 per cent. 

“An activity that makes you breathe hard or pant, results in 65 per cent less chance of dying from CVD and the greater the range and intensity of the exercise, the more the benefit,” Professor Dhaliwal said. 

“The research demonstrated that leading a sedentary lifestyle puts pressure on your heart and dieting alone won’t ward off heart problems, with even slim people being at risk. 

“As a result of this research, we would recommend an increased public health focus on physical activity to reduce rates of cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease.

“This includes sporting programs throughout school and support in the workplace for physical activity. However for those who have been inactive for a long period of time, we recommend they consult their health practitioner before commencing an exercise program.”

Professor Dhaliwal said the research also supported a focus on behavioural, social and environmental programs, rather than a complete reliance on medications, for issues such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

The research was published in the PLOS One medical journal and can be accessed here.

The study was undertaken in collaboration with Professor Tim Welborn from Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital.

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