Heart Health

06 December 2019

How exercise may be of extra benefit to people with heart disease

A South Korean study found that increased physical activity was more beneficial for people with heart disease than those without heart disease.

Regular exercise benefits heart disease patients more than healthy people, according to a new study.

It found that while stepping up physical activity reduced the risk of death for people with and without heart disease, those with heart disease had greatest benefit. The more they exercised, the more their risk dropped.

A totally sedentary lifestyle

The study included nearly 442 000 people in South Korea who were followed for six years. They were older than 40 (average age: 60), and about one-third had heart disease.

"We found that approximately half of the people in the study did not reach the recommended level of leisure-time physical activity, and a quarter had a totally sedentary lifestyle. People with cardiovascular disease had lower levels of physical activity than those without, but the more exercise people did, the lower their risk of death during the six years of follow-up," said study leader Dr Sang-Woo Jeong, a cardiologist at Seoul National University in South Korea.

By the end of the follow-up period, researchers found that for every 500 MET-minutes a week of physical activity they logged, the risk of death dropped 14% in heart disease patients and by 7% in others.

MET-minutes/week (metabolic equivalent task minutes per week) is a measure of physical activity. And 500 MET-minutes/week represents the recommendation for healthy adults of all ages to get at least 150 minutes a week of moderate or 75 minutes a week of vigorous physical activity, or an equivalent combination.

More is better

Among people without heart disease, those who were inactive had a 27% higher risk of death than those with the most physical activity (1,500 MET-minutes/week or more, or the equivalent of brisk walking for 30 minutes five times a week plus climbing hills for 2.5 hours a week). Those who did up to 499 MET minutes/week of exercise had an 8% higher risk of death than those with the highest amounts of physical activity.

Among heart disease patients, the greatest reduction in death risk was seen in those who did up to 499 MET-minutes/week, but the risk continued to fall for those who did more.

Compared to people without heart disease who did the most exercise, the risk of death was 87% higher among heart disease patients who did not exercise; 45% higher among heart disease patients who did up to 499 MET-minutes/week; and 14% higher among heart disease patients who did 1 000 MET-minutes/week or more.

The study was presented at the annual meeting of the European Society of Cardiology in Paris, and published in the European Heart Journal.

"The main new finding of this study is that people with cardiovascular disease benefit from a physically active lifestyle to a greater extent than healthy people without cardiovascular disease," Jeong said in a meeting news release.

Image credit: iStock