We’re living longer and that goes for people who may not have survived in the past – people with heart failure. That’s because people are surviving heart attacks which once would have killed them. So what can we do to ensure the wellbeing of this new generation of survivors?
It could be something as simple as more exercise. Previous studies have shown that people who are active have lower risks of heart failure than those who lead a mostly sedentary life.
What we haven’t known was whether starting to exercise as late as middle age could protect against heart failure. Until now.
From a recent study of 11,000 people we now know that after exercising for six years in middle age the risk of heart failure falls by a third.
Unlike a heart attack, in which a part of your heart muscle dies, heart failure is marked by the long-term weakness of the heart to pump enough blood, or pump strongly enough, the much-needed oxygen through the body. In the study, participants were monitored annually for an average of 19 years for cardiovascular disease events such as heart attack, stroke and heart failure.
They also filled in a questionnaire every six years on how much activity they were doing. Those who were reaching recommended activity levels (150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes vigorous exercise a week) showed the greatest decrease in heart failure at 31% compared to those who hardly ever took any exercise.
But heart failure risk also declined by about 12% in the 2,702 participants who simply increased their physical activity somewhat compared with those who hardly exercised at all.
Meanwhile, heart failure risk increased by nearly a fifth in people who exercised less.
Dr Chiadi Ndumele who led the US study said: “In everyday terms our findings suggest that consistently participating in the recommended 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity each week, such as brisk walking or biking, in middle age may be enough to reduce your heart failure risk by 31%.
“Additionally, going from no exercise to recommended activity levels over six years in middle age may reduce heart failure risk by 23%.”
Most of us wanting to live longer could follow this advice.
The take-home message is it’s never too late for middle-aged people to reduce the risk of heart failure later in life with moderate exercise. So get your trainers on.