Workout Is Likely Working
Perceived Exercise Intensity Is an Indicator of Heart Health
Feb. 18, 2003 -- If it feels like you're pushing yourself,
you're probably doing enough to help your heart.
A new study looks at this issue of exercise intensity. While
current American Heart Association guidelines call for "moderate-intense
activity," it's not always clear to exercisers whether they are doing
enough. Should we push the envelope a bit more? This study is aimed at clearing
up the mystery.
"We've always said that a good, moderate activity was brisk
walking, at 6 mph.... If you are a marathon runner, that's a piece of cake. But
if you are my 93-year-old grandmother, that's not very realistic, she couldn't
do that," lead researcher I-Min Lee, MBBS, ScD, professor of medicine at
Harvard Medical School, tells WebMD.
Her study appears in the current issue of Circulation:
Journal of the American Heart Association.
In it, Lee and colleagues track the health of nearly 7,400 men
-- all in their mid-60s -- to see how the intensity of their workout stacked up
against incidence of heart disease from 1988 to 1995. The men rated their
activities as weak or less intense, moderate, somewhat strong, or strong and
intense. They found that 551 men developed heart disease -- heart attacks or
angina -- or had heart procedures including bypass or angioplasty of a clogged
Who didn't develop heart disease? Those who described their
workouts as "intense" had 40% less risk, reports Lee.
Her rule of thumb: "If it feels somewhat difficult, then
it's good for you. You are getting some heart benefit."
The study showed that the patient's perceived exercise exertion
was a strong predictor of future heart health even among those who did not meet
the current recommendation for moderate-intense physical activity.
Right on, says Joseph Miller, MD, a preventive cardiologist at
Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. "There's a big
misconception, that when we tell people to go out and exercise, we're not
trying to turn you into a marathoner. The real goal is to start exercising, and
to push yourself till you're feeling fatigued."
"I think we discourage people sometimes," Miller tells
WebMD. "People have a vision that they need to be wearing spandex and get
out and kill themselves, and that's really not the goal. If you're used to
sitting at a desk all day, a 20-minute walk is what you need. You don't have to
be speed walking."