OXFORD, England — Here’s another reason to make a daily jog or bike ride a priority. There is simply no limit to the benefits of exercise for our hearts, according to the largest ever study of its kind.
Researchers at Oxford University say the lowest risk of cardiovascular disease, including conditions such as a heart attack or stroke, is seen among people who are most active. Their findings, published in the journal PLOS Medicine, show that physical activity is not only associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, but there is no threshold for that association.
Previous research has shown that there is an inverse association between self-reported physical activity and the occurrence of cardiovascular disease. However, there is uncertainty about the range of the association, especially at the highest levels of physical activity.
For the new study, researchers used figures from more than 90,000 British residents without prior cardiovascular disease who agreed to wear an accelerometer to measure their physical activity over a seven-day period. Participants in the lowest category of physical activity smoked more and had higher body mass index (BMI). They also had higher levels of the inflammation marker C-reactive protein, and were most often diagnosed with high blood pressure.
Exercise ‘even more important for prevention of cardiovascular disease than previously thought’
Overall, there were 3,617 cases of cardiovascular disease diagnosed in participants during an average of 5.2 years of follow-up.
The study shows that people in every increasing quartile of physical activity, for moderate-intensity activity, vigorous-intensity activity and total physical activity, were less likely to have cardiovascular disease. For example, compared to those in the lowest quartile, those in the second quartile of moderate-intensity exercise were 71 percent as likely to be diagnosed with cardiovascular disease. Moreover, those in the third quartile were 59 percent as likely, and those in the highest quartile were 46 percent as likely.
“This is the largest ever study of exquisite device-measured physical activity and cardiovascular disease,” says study co-lead author Aiden Doherty, an associate professor from Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Population Health, in a statement. “It shows that physical activity is probably even more important for the prevention of cardiovascular disease than we previously thought. Our findings lend further weight to the new WHO guidelines on physical activity which recommend at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity per week for all adults.”
Adds lead author Terry Dwyer, a professor with the university’s Department of Women’s & Reproductive Health: “The results of this study enhance confidence that physical activity is likely to be an important way of preventing cardiovascular disease. The potential risk reduction estimated in those engaging in relatively high levels of activity is substantial and justifies a greater emphasis on measures to increase levels of physical activity in the community.”
SWNS writer Stephen Beech contributed to this report.