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Exercise Good for the Heart, Even After a Heart Attack.

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According to a 1995 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association,cardiac patients who were sedentary before the heart attack then become active have a better chance of survival than those who never exercised or stopped after their cardiac event.

In the Corpus Christi Heart Project, Steffen-Batey, who is now an epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, and her colleagues studied more than 400 Mexican-American and Caucasian men and women for a period of two to seven years after their first heart attacks. They analyzed leisure time physical activity, measured increases and decreases in activity, and classified the types of activities.

The researchers found that even those who had been active before a heart attack but decreased their exercise level afterward had a 51% lower risk of death than those who were always sedentary. Risk of second heart attack remained about the same for these patients. The researchers speculate that this was a residual effect from benefits gained from pre-event activity.

Results of the study showed no differences based on gender or race.

Steffen-Batey recommends that physical activity be an integral part of heart disease prevention for everyone. However, she emphasizes that exercise should be under the guidance of a doctor.

In addition, Belmont reminds that exercise won't help unless the patient modifies other risk factors.

"We have some patients who are diabetic, not taking their medications, not eating properly, and smoking," she says. "Exercise is one part of rehabilitation, and it's vital, but it's not the only factor.

"We have some people who say 'I'll just eat what I want and not exercise and just have the big one and die,'" Belmont says. "But what often happens is they have the big one and end up being debilitated for a year or two. That's because with modern medicine, many people survive heart attacks who 10 years ago wouldn't have."

More than 12 million Americans alive today have a history of heart attack, chest pain or both, according to the AHA.

"Our goal with exercise rehabilitation is not just to get the patient back to work, but also to keep them independent as long as possible," Belmont says.

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