A large study involving Finnish men provides new and compelling evidence that regular exercise can sharply reduce the risk of heart attacks, researchers say.
The five-year study involving 1,453 middle-age men who were healthy at the outset found those who engaged in at least two hours of "conditioning" exercise each week had a 60 percent lower chance of having a heart attack than those who were relatively sedentary.Investigators also said men found to be the fittest on the basis of oxygen uptake tests had a 55 percent lower heart attack risk than the least fit men.
The findings are consistent with the notion that leisure-time physical activity and cardiovascular fitness are "important, independent coronary risk factors," scientists led by Dr. Jukka Salonen of the University of Kuogio reported in The New England Journal of Medicine.
The participants filled out questionnaires about the types and frequency of their physical activity and underwent bicycle exercise tests. Investigators considered conditioning exercise to include walking, jogging, dancing, gymnastics, skiing, ball games, rowing and bicycling.
Two years ago, the American Heart Association added lack of exercise to smoking, high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels on its list of leading risk factors for heart disease.
At the same time, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a report noting that only about a third of adult Americans exercise regularly.
Heart disease is the greatest killer of both men and women in the United States. This year, heart attacks will strike about 1.5 million Americans and about 500,000 will die.
The researchers said their results match those of several past studies - including two large American trials - showing that regular exercise at even low to moderate levels of intensity can significantly reduce the risk of heart disease.
However, they said the benefits of exercise they found are even greater than those demonstrated previously.