Exercise Can Cut Heart Attack Risk by Half

Improving cardiorespiratory fitness through increased exercise can cut the risk for cardiovascular events like heart attacks by almost 50%, according to a newly published study.

The authors, publishing in the European Heart Journal, analyzed a sample of 4,527 adults (51% female) from the HUNT3 population health survey with no previous history of cardiovascular disease, cancers, or hypertension who were linked with hospital and cause-of-death registries. At baseline, average peak oxygen uptake (VO2peak) was 36.0 mL/kg/min in women and 44.4 mL/kg/min in men. Most subjects (83.5%) had a low 10-year risk of cardiovascular disease at baseline. Subjects were followed for an average of 8.8 years.

According to the results, higher VO2peak was associated with a 15% lower risk for the HUNT3 primary endpoint (HR=0.85; 95% CI; 0.77 to 0.93. The newsworthy result was that those in the highest quartile of VO2peak levels saw as much as a 48% reduction in risk for an event compared to the lowest quartile of VO2peak (HR=0.52; 95% CI; 0.33 to 0.82). The results were consistent for both sexes.

“We found a strong link between higher fitness levels and a lower risk of heart attack and angina pectoris over the nine years following the measurements that were taken,” study co-author Bjarne Nes, of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s (NTNU) Cardiac Exercise Research Group (CERG), said in a press release “Even among people who seem to be healthy, the top 25 percent of the most fit individuals actually have only half as high a risk as the least fit 25 percent.”

The results, the authors said, are a green light to incorporate exercise as a viable option in the preventive cardiology armamentarium.

“Our results should encourage people to use training as preventive medicine,” lead author Jon Magne Letnes, MD, added in a press release. “A few months of regular exercise that gets you out of breath can be an effective strategy for reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.”