Being active more important for heart patients than weight loss

Increased physical activity, rather than weight loss, gives individuals with coronary heart disease a longer lease on life, scientists say.

Researchers at Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) from have found that heart disease patients can gain weight without jeopardising their health, but sitting in their recliner incurs significant health risks.

Weight loss seems to be associated with increased mortality for the participants in the study who were normal weight at baseline, researchers said. 

Researchers studied 3307 individuals with coronary heart disease. Patients were examined in 1985, 1996 and 2007, and followed up to the end of 2014. During the 30-year period, 1493 of the participants died and 55 per cent of the deaths were due to cardiovascular disease.

The study revealed that people who are physically active live longer than those who are not. Sustained physical activity over time was associated with substantially lower mortality risk. Participants in the study were divided into three categories: inactive; slightly physically active, but below recommended activity level; and physically active at or above recommended activity level.

The recommended activity level is at least 150 minutes per week of moderate physical activity or 60 minutes per week of vigorous physical activity. The risk of premature death was higher for the group of patients who were completely inactive than for either of the other groups. The prognosis for people who exercise a little bit, even if it is below the recommended level, is better than not exercising at all.

"Even being somewhat active is better than being inactive, but patients have to maintain the activity level. Physical activity is perishable if you snooze you lose its benefits," said Trine Moholdt from NTNU. "The clinical guidelines for heart disease patients currently include having a normal weight and being physically active. I would put more emphasis on the exercise aspect," said Moholdt.

"When it comes to physical activity, you have to do what gets you in better shape. That means training with high intensity. Do something that makes you breathe hard so that it's hard to talk, but not so hard that you can't do it for four to five minutes," she said.

She adds that heart disease patients are often in poor shape, so it often doesn't take much to get into the high-intensity mode.

The results indicate that weight gain does not seem to increase the risk for already overweight patients, which would mean that it is not dangerous for a fat heart patient to gain a few pounds. What is dangerous is if the person does not engage in any form of exercise.



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