Heart failure, which affects about 6.5 million U.S. adults, is a chronic condition where the heart doesn’t circulate enough blood to fully meet the body’s needs. It’s the leading cause of hospitalization in adults over age 65, according to Johns Hopkins.
“The results are not too surprising given that people that exercise [typically] maintain health longer than individuals that do not exercise,” said Dr. Deepak Gupta, a Vanderbilt University Medical Center cardiologist.
Gupta said the report again emphasizes how important physical activity is for good health.
They were monitored annually for an average of 19 years for cardiovascular-related disease such as heart attack, stroke, and heart failure.
Plus, at the first and third ARIC study visits—which were six years apart—each participant filled out a questionnaire asking them to evaluate their physical activity levels.
These were categorized as:
- poor: no exercise
- intermediate: 1–74 minutes per week of vigorous intensity or 1–149 minutes per week of moderate exercise
- recommended: at least 75 minutes per week of vigorous intensity or at least 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity
Participants categorized as meeting recommended activity levels at both the first visit and then six years later at the third visit, had the largest decrease of heart failure risk—an overall decrease of 31 percent.
On the other hand, heart failure risk increased by 18 percent in participants who reported decreased physical activity between the first and third visits.
The recent study joins a large body of evidence on the link between working out consistently and staying heart healthy.
“Heart failure is among the most common causes of morbidity, particularly among older individuals,” said Gupta. “We are increasingly aware that heart failure can be prevented in some individuals. Maintaining or increasing physical activity in middle age appears to be effective in reducing heart failure risk.”
Tips for Keeping Fit
If you’re concerned about staying heart healthy in middle age, Josephson has some tips for people who want to get in shape.
Josephson suggested starting off by walking for five to 10 minutes a day while incrementally increasing the time or distance every few weeks. When reaching 30 to 45 minutes, increase the intensity by picking up the pace.
“The same approach would be relevant if you’re using exercise equipment in a gym,” he said.
He said that whether it’s aerobic exercise like walking, cycling, or swimming, or isometric strengthening exercises like weight training, the key to sticking to a program is picking one you enjoy.
“You need to find the type of exercise that you can do, that you want to do,” said Josephson.
Another thing to keep in mind is that while exercising for two hours a day is certainly better than one hour, most of the benefits actually take place within that first hour, he said.
So don’t beat yourself up if you max out at 60 minutes.
Jessica Peralta is a contributor to Healthline where this article was originally published.