Car + TV = Heart Attack?
January 11, 2012

Car + TV = Heart Attack?

Got a Car? How about a television?... If you answered yes to both of these questions, then according to a new international study published on Wednesday you´re 27% more likely to suffer a heart attack than your low-tech compatriots.

But more importantly, the study–which examined almost 30,000 people across 52 countries–showed that a little exercise can go a long way in reducing heart failure.

I know. Surprise, surprise. Every third grader knows that, right?

Surprisingly, however, scientists claim that remarkably little research has focused specifically on the effects of daily physical exertion on the prevention of heart attacks, particularly from a transnational perspective.  This most recent study set out to scientifically examine what everyone presumably already knows.

At first glance, their results appeared banal.

“This study shows that mild to moderate physical activity at work, and any level of activity during leisure time reduces the risk of heart attacks,” explained the study´s lead researcher Professor Claes Held of Sweden´s Uppsala University to the AFP news agency.

One objective of the study was to extend previous research about the heart-protecting benefits done in more affluent countries to the populations of middle and low-income nations.

Held´s team examined volumes of data sets collected between 1999 and 2003 for the international Interheart research study.  Specifically, the researchers compared a group that included over 10,000 middle-aged men and women who had suffered a single heart attack with an even larger whose members had no history of heart disease.

Scientists broke down physical activity–whether done at work or during free time–into four basic levels of intensity. At the highest level were individuals who were extremely sedentary, getting essentially no physical activity; at the other extreme were both worked and played at extreme levels of physical exertion.

The results of study, published this week in the European Heart Journal, highlighted a few unexpected phenomena.

The main gist of the report was that regular exercise leads to a healthier heart. But that wasn´t all. Noting several nuanced distinctions, the scientists also found that the relative effectiveness of a subject´s exercise varied significantly depending on the setting and intensity of the physical activity.

In terms of reducing the risk of heart attacks, all leisure exercise was found to have a positive influence. Compared to sessile couch potatoes, those who undertook mild activity during playtime showed a 13% reduction in instances of heart attacks while those who engaged in rigorous exercise reduced their risk by nearly 25%.

These statistics changed, however, when the researchers examined physical activity in the workplace. For those people whose jobs required moderate physical exertion, the numbers were similar. Yet for those who worked in intensely physical jobs, on-job exercise did not appear to reduce their susceptibility to heart attacks at all.

The researchers were initially stumped by this statistical oddity. Why did intense work-place activity not appear to carry any benefits at all?

It was at this point that Held´s team opted to look into whether owning a motor vehicle, a stereo, a TV, a computer, land or livestock influenced heath outcomes.

What they found was that people in all countries who owned both a car and a TV were at higher risk of suffering a heart attack, known in the medical world as a myocardial infarction. In poor and middle-income nations, that was about 25% of the participants and about 65% in more affluent countries.

Statistically speaking, these beloved possessions made poorer participants about four times more likely to be sedentary at work, while the wealthier subjects were only twice as likely.

In short, explained the researchers, TVs and automobiles generally discourage people from walking when not at work.

“If we want to support healthy longevity, we should put a stop to the pandemic of sedantism,” wrote Emiline Van Craenenbroeck and Viviane Conraads at  Antwerp´s University Hospital in Belgium.

“Staying physically fit throughout life may well be one of the easiest, cheapest and most effective ways to avoid the coronary care unit,” they added in an addendum to the journal article.

Among the participants from wealthier countries, almost 70 percent did not get their pulse up during their leisure time–almost twice as many as their less privileged counterparts.

“Since the main burden of heart disease now lies in developing countries, this information should inspire a shift in healthcare strategy in low-income regions,” explained Van Craenenbroeck and Conraads said.


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