Heavy Meals, Vigorous Exercise Linked to Heart Attack and Stroke
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But, he says, "this does not mean that aerobic exercise is dangerous. The public needs to increase the regularity of their workouts to get benefits and reduce their risk of a cardiovascular event." If you simply can't find a way to bump up your frequency, he says, "don't go in there and turn the treadmill up to 8 mph. Sporadic exercisers should adopt a mild to moderate pace."
In another study, Gerald Fletcher, MD, and colleagues found that this kind of regular exercise -- five sessions per week -- can even help men who've already had a heart attack or undergone surgery to treat blocked arteries. "After 6 months, we saw a significant increase in HDL -- the good cholesterol -- regardless of workout intensity," he says, and there's no reason to believe the findings would be any different in women.
Fletcher, who is a cardiologist and professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla., believes in practicing what he preaches. He runs about 14 miles per week, on the beach or the road, at a rate of 10-12 minutes per mile.
"Overall, if you look at all the factors, the fact is that physically active people have half the risk of coronary artery disease as their sedentary counterparts," Franklin says. "The main message is that the benefit of exercise far outweighs the risk." He himself walks about 12 miles a week with his wife and dog, usually in one-hour stints, and also does some resistance training (such as lifting weights) twice a week.
Fletcher agrees. "We want to let the public know that any exercise you do is beneficial, including low-level activity," he says. "We're beginning to think that frequency, not duration or intensity, is most important."