Exercise is key to a healthy heart, based on a recent study that found regular physical activity helps protect against heart damage, particularly for obese adults at increased risk for heart failure.
Published in JACC: Heart Failure, this study looked at the association between physical activity and heart damage. The goal was to see whether exercise helps minimize heart damage, potentially explaining the process by which exercise reduces risk for heart failure.
The study followed nearly 9,500 U.S. adults from 1987 through 2013, tracking participants’ physical activity, weight and health every three years. Researchers also collected blood samples to test for high-sensitivity cardiac troponin T, which detects heart damage even in seemingly healthy patients.
Participants were between 45–64 years old and free of heart disease at the start of the study. One-third of participants were obese, and less than half of participants got the recommended levels of exercise set out by the American Heart Association. Current guidelines recommend at least 2.5 hours of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity to promote good health.
After analysis, researchers found that people who reported no regular exercise were 39% more likely to have heart damage, based on elevated high-sensitivity troponin levels. Worse, individuals who were obese and had no physical activity were nearly 2.5 times as likely to have heart damage as non-obese adults that got the recommended levels of exercise.
The good news, however, is that exercise helped counteract heart damage associated with obesity. Obese adults who got the recommended levels of physical activity were only 1.7 times as likely to have heart damage as non-obese, active adults.
Researchers also found that heart damage significantly increased risk for heart failure among all participants, regardless of weight or physical activity.
What this study shows, according to authors, is that physical activity helps protect against heart damage, which may in turn protect against heart failure. Thus, findings highlight the importance of regular exercise, especially in obese adults. Obesity is a major risk factor for heart failure, and while exercise can’t completely erase the impact of obesity on the heart, it can minimize damage over time.