You don’t have to be a marathon runner to reap the benefits of exercise. Even the lightest forms of physical activity, taking the stairs over the elevator or shooting hoops during your lunch break, can give your heart a healthy workout that lowers the risk of heart disease and overall death.
From McMaster University, in a study published in The Lancet, researchers observed the power of the most basic exercise to keep the heart healthy. Including 130,000 people from 17 different countries the Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) study looked at the benefits of achieving the recommended 30 minutes of activity per day or 150 minutes per week of physical activity. Only 25 percent of people across the globe meet this criteria.
"By including low and middle-income countries in this study, we were able to determine the benefit of activities such as active commuting, having an active job or even doing housework," explained principal investigator Dr. Scott Lear.
For those who met the recommendation, their risk of death was 28 percent less and risk of heart disease 20 percent less than those who did not get that much exercise. Plus, researchers saw another trend: the more exercise, the better. 39 percent of participants achieved more than 750 minutes of brisk walking per week (with a 36 percent reduction in risk of death) by walking to work, being active at work, or by doing chores around the house.
"Going to the gym is great, but we only have so much time we can spend there. If we can walk to work, or at lunch time, that will help too,” Lear said.
"For low and middle income countries where having heart disease can cause a severe financial burden, physical activity represents a low-cost approach that can be done throughout the world with potential large impact," said Dr. Salim Yusuf, principal investigator of the overall PURE study.
Why does exercise improve heart health? Studies show that physical activity leads to healthy weight and a lower risk of depression and cognitive decline with age. Exercise also lowers a person’s risk of heart disease. Like certain exercises like running or lifting weights can make your leg and arm muscles stronger, physical activity makes your heart, also a muscle, stronger and better able to pump blood to the rest of the body.