Even a Little Exercise Can Help Improve Heart Health, Study Finds

Women Benefit More Than Men According to Research

Hit the gym for a quick walk before or after work. Look for a parking space that isn’t closer in the lot. Take the steps instead of the elevator. Go for a family walk after meals.

Basically, even a little exercise can do the heart some good. That’s the message from Harvard researchers after a new study showed that as little as 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of exercise a week can dramatically cut heart disease risk. For those who did more, about 300 minutes a week (five hours), their reduced risk of heart disease, including heart attacks, angina and bypass surgeries, increased to 20 percent compared to people who did no exercise, the study found. Researchers also noticed a significant gender difference in results -which showed while exercise resulted in a 22% reduction in heart disease risk among men, it increased to a 33% reduction among women.

“The overall findings of the study corroborate federal guidelines – even a little bit of exercise is good, but more is better,” Dr. Jacob Sattelmair, an epidemiologist at the Harvard School of Public Health, said in a written statement.

Researchers looked at 33 studies on exercise’s benefits to see if working out for that amount of time reduced heart disease risk for the study published in the August 1 issue of Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.

“Early studies broke people into groups such as active and sedentary,” Sattelmair says. “More recent studies have begun to assess the actual amount of physical activity people are getting and how that relates to their risk of heart disease.”

Moderate physical activity includes walking briskly, gardening, playing doubles tennis or dancing. Vigorous activity includes jogging, swimming laps, hiking uphill or jumping rope, although researchers did not analyze whether or not exercising vigorously was any better than moderate exercise for improving heart health.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and is a major cause of disability, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Coronary heart disease is caused by the buildup of plaque in the arteries to your heart. This may also be called hardening of the arteries.

Besides exercise, reducing portions, controlling calories, moderating salt (sodium) intake, not smoking and adding more “color” to the plate (e.g., including more fruits and vegetables) can help reduce heart disease risk.

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