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Heart Disease Health Center

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Little Exercise Beats None

Even Small Amounts of Physical Activity Reduce Heart Disease Risk, Researchers Say
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Aug. 1, 2011 -- Even a little physical activity performed on a regular basis may reduce the risk of heart disease. And the more exercise people do, the more benefit in reducing risk, a new study finds.

Among key findings of the study by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health:

  • As little as 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity physical activity per week -- that’s 150 minutes -- can lower a person’s overall risk of heart disease by 14%.
  • The risk of developing coronary heart disease gets progressively lower the more physical activity a person does.

“The overall findings of the study corroborate federal guidelines -- even a little bit of exercise is good, but more is better,” Jacob Sattelmair, ScD, of the Harvard School of Public Health, says in a news release.

More Is Better

Sattelmair says 150 minutes of exercise is beneficial but that 300 minutes weekly will achieve even better results.

He says his study is different from previous research reviews examining correlations between heart disease and exercise because it included the amount of physical activity a person may need in order to reduce their risk as well as the magnitude of their benefit.

Sattelmair and his research team looked at more than 3,000 studies of physical activity and heart disease, including 33 of them in their analysis. “Early studies broke people into groups such as active and sedentary,” Sattelmair says. “More recent studies have begun to assess the actual amount of physical activity people are getting and how that relates to their risk of heart disease.”

Gender and Exercise

Researchers noticed a significant gender difference in results, which showed that exercise had a greater effect in reducing heart disease risk in women than in men. The scientists write as background that the frequency of coronary heart disease (CHD) deaths has declined since the 1960s. About 17 million people in the U.S. are living with CHD, which causes an estimated 425,000 deaths a year, making it the leading cause of death in the United States.

Sattelmair works for Dossia, an employer-led health care research group. Lee has served as a consultant to Virgin HealthMiles, a company that provides employee health programs that pay people to exercise.

The study is published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.

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