Fitness, simplified: The gym isn’t necessary to improve heart health, study finds

LISBON, Portugal — For many people, the prospect of improving their physical fitness and cardiorespiratory health is an intimidating endeavor. Let’s face it, committing to a strict and tenuous gym schedule isn’t exactly a walk in the park, especially for people who don’t regularly exercise. Well, a new study argues that improving cardiovascular and cardiorespiratory health is actually as easy as a walk in the park, literally.

Researchers say that simple, relatively easy-going extra bouts of everyday activities, such as opting for stairs over the elevator or walking to work everyday, are enough to promote a healthier, longer life regardless of an individual’s age, gender, or fitness level.

“People think they have to start going to the gym and exercising hard to get fitter,” explains study author Dr. Elin Ekblom-Bak, of the Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences in Stockholm, in a release from the European Society of Cardiology. “But it doesn’t have to be that complicated. For most people, just being more active in daily life — taking the stairs, exiting the metro a station early, cycling to work — is enough to benefit health since levels are so low to start with. The more you do, the better.”

The study analyzed 316,137 Swedish adults between the ages of 18-74 years old, all of whom had received their first occupational health screening between 1995 and 2015. Each person’s cardiorespiratory fitness was measured using a cycle test, and recorded via “maximal oxygen uptake” or VO2 . Basically, VO2 refers to the maximum amount of oxygen a person’s heart and lungs can provide their muscles during physical activity or exercise.

Then, Swedish national registries were referenced to collect data on any cardiovascular-related mortalities or first-time cardiovascular events suffered by participants between 1995 and 2015.

Researchers found that for each milliliter increase in VO2, participants’ risk of death decreased by 2.8% and risk of a cardiovascular event decreased by 3.2%. These positive benefits were observed in both men and women, across all age groups and fitness levels.

“It is particularly important to note that an increase in fitness was beneficial regardless of the starting point,” Dr. Ekblom-Bak says. “This suggests that people with lower levels cardiorespiratory fitness have the most to gain from boosting their fitness.”

Researchers estimate that for each additional milliliter increase in VO2, an individual would enjoy a 3% reduction in cardiovascular risk, on average.

“This is more motivational than just telling people they need to do better. People in the lower range of VO2 max will reduce their risk even more (9%) while those at the upper end of VO2 max will reduce their risk by 1%,” Dr. Ekblom-Bak comments.

So, keep it moving on those days where you can’t get to the gym. A little walking could go a long way.

The study was presented at EuroPrevent 2019.

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John Anderer

Born blue in the face, John has been writing professionally for over a decade and covering the latest scientific research for StudyFinds since 2019. His work has been featured by Business Insider, Eat This Not That!, MSN, Ladders, and Yahoo!

Studies and abstracts can be confusing and awkwardly worded. He prides himself on making such content easy to read, understand, and apply to one’s everyday life.

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