The study looked at 14,223 people who had never had a heart attack or stroke. The subjects’ levels of activity were established as a baseline back in 1976-78 and categorized as sedentary, light, moderate or high. The subjects were then followed through registries until 2013.
During the intervening years, 1,664 of the participants had a myocardial infarction, a.k.a., a heart attack. Of these, 425 died immediately.
Researchers then compared the physical activity of those who died from the heart attack with those who survived. They found that those with light or moderate exercise levels were 32 percent and 47 percent less likely to die than those classified as sedentary. For those in the high physical activity category, the survival rate was almost 50 percent.
“One possible explanation is that people who exercise may develop collateral blood vessels in the heart, which ensure the heart continues to get enough blood after a blockage,” said study co-author Eva Prescott, professor of cardiovascular prevention and rehabilitation at the University of Copenhagen, in a press release. “Exercise may also increase levels of chemical substances that improve blood flow and reduce injury to the heart from a heart attack.”
While more research is needed, the study does back up what most doctors have been preaching for years: get up and get active.
“If you tend to be sedentary, move more!” says Dr. Raju Shanmugam, an Advocate Medical Group family medicine physician on staff at Advocate BroMenn Medical Center in Bloomington-Normal, Ill. “Do your best to be active for at least 2½ hours every week. Include activities that raise your breathing and heart rates and strengthen your muscles.”
It doesn’t take much to move the needle out of the “sedentary” range. Dr. Dory Jarzabkowski, a cardiologist with Advocate Heart Institute at BroMenn Medical Center, recommends adding more steps to your day.
“There are several ways to sneak walking into your routine without it feeling like exercise,” she says. “Add more steps to your workday. Take the long way to the office copier or the cafeteria. Walk over to see a coworker instead of calling or emailing. And, if possible, take the stairs instead of the elevator.”
She suggests walking as a family activity in the evening or on weekends or meeting a friend for a walk instead of at a coffee shop. Even parking your car farther from your destination can help.