The best type of exercise to ‘prevent heart failure’

The signs and symptoms of heart failure

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Publishing their findings in the journal Circulation, the researchers from the AHA say that boosting the duration, frequency, and intensity of exercise can reduce the risk of heart failure.

While the study was conducted by US researchers, the data and 94,000 participants were all British, originating specifically from the UK Biobank.

This data was used to objectively measure activity levels and from this to draw conclusions about heart failure risk. The results themselves were evolutionary rather than revolutionary, following from previous data sets which also suggested that more exercise can reduce someone’s risk of heart failure.

Co-lead author of the study Frederick Ho said: “There are many potential ways that regular physical activity may reduce the risk of developing heart failure. For example, physical activity helps prevent weight gain and related cardiometabolic conditions, such as high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes, all of which are risk factors for heart failure.”

Ho added that regular exercise can help to “strengthen the heart muscle, which, in turn, may prevent heart failure from developing”; the stronger the heart the more blood it can pump around the body to the internal organs.

Furthermore, exercise helps to burn off excess visceral fat and other fats inside the body which contribute to high blood pressure and high cholesterol, thus alleviating conditions which could increase the risk of a heart attack or a stroke.

With regard to the workings of the study, the researchers took the 94,739 participants, all aged between 37 and 73, and from the data they submitted drew conclusions about the relationship between heart failure and exercise.

During the six year follow up period it was found that those who engaged in between 150 and 300 minutes of moderate physical activity a week were 63 percent less likely to experience heart failure.

Meanwhile, participants who engaged in 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous physical activity per week were 66 percent less likely to experience heart failure compared to those who did little to no moderate or vigorous exercise.

Ho said: “These findings indicate that every physical movement counts. A leisurely, 10-minute walk is better than sitting and no physical activity. And, if possible, try to walk a little faster, which increases the intensity and potential benefits of exercise.

“We found that moderate physical activity has the potential increased cardiovascular risk benefits up until 500 minutes/week, as appropriate for each individual.”

Currently, the NHS recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate to intense physical activity per week as a minimum. These findings suggest this should be raised in order to help reduce the UK’s nationwide risk of heart failure.

Of the next steps, Ho added: “Health care professionals may suggest more physical activity based on a patient’s current lifestyle and health status. Generally, moderate physical activity is easier to incorporate into daily routines, and it’s generally safer. Vigorous physical activity is sometimes the most time-efficient and may be more suitable for busy people.

“However, caution is advised for all when beginning a new physical activity regimen to prevent injuries or acute adverse events (such as a heart attack in a formerly sedentary person initiating a vigorous exercise program).”

Furthermore, it is important to note a caveat to the study in that it is observational and not causational; this means it cannot prove a cause and effect link between the amount, frequency, and intensity of physical exercise and heart failure.

Alongside this, the participants in the UK Biobank study did not reflect a diverse society as most of the study cohort were white and the need for other risk factors to be taken into account.

What are the symptoms of heart failure?

The symptoms of heart failure include say the NHS:
• Breathlessness after activity or at rest
• Feeling tired most of the time
• Finding exercise exhausting
• Feeling lightheaded or fainting
• Swollen ankles and legs
• Persistent cough
• A fast heart rate
• Dizziness.

The NHS added that symptoms “can develop quickly (acute heart failure) or gradually over weeks or months (chronic heart failure)”.

Can heart failure be treated?

Yes, heart failure can be treated, but it is not as quick a fix as high cholesterol or high blood pressure. Like all forms of heart disease, it can be a long-term chronic condition which requires management.

Most treatments involve a combination of lifestyle changes, medication, devices implanted in the chest and, depending on the severity of the heart failure, surgery.

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