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Mild Exercise Boosts Lifespan Of Heart Patients

November 2, 2009

Mild exercise can significantly reduce the risk of early death from heart disease, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Medicine.

Just half an hour of jogging or riding a bike three times a week reduced the risk of early death by 60 percent, the research found.

Heart disease is the largest killer in the United States, and the number of people suffering from the condition is expected to rise as the population ages and obesity rates increase. 

The study found that the most significant gains were realized in patients who were also stressed.  Researchers believe this is due to the fact that stress can quadruple the risk of death in those with heart and circulation problems.

In these patients, exercise can offer the double benefit of reducing stress levels while also improving cardiovascular health.

“Exercise reduces mortality in patients with coronary artery disease”¦in part because of the effects on psycho­social stress,” the researchers said.

Heart patients are typically put on drugs such as statins, which lower cholesterol levels, and blood pressure medication to reduce the risk of death from strokes, heart attacks and heart disease.

Previous studies have demonstrated a variety of life-extending benefits from exercise, including a reduced risk of cancer, heart disease and neurological disorders and slower rates of death and disability.

These benefits are due to the ability of exercise to improve the health of hearts and arteries, strengthen bones, lessen inflammation, boost the immune system and improve thinking, learning and memory.

The latest study, conducted by the Department of Cardiology in New Orleans, describes just how much these simple alterations can increase lifespan.

The researchers followed 522 cardiac patients, including 53 with high stress levels and 27 control patients who also had high stress levels but went without cardiac rehabilitation.

The patients were offered 12 weeks of exercise classes, which included a 10 minute warm-up, 30 to 40 minutes of aerobic exercise such as jogging, walking or rowing, and 10 minutes of stretching.   The classes were conducted three times per week, with participants asked to do an additional one-to-three sessions each week on their own.  The patients were also advised on lifestyle and diet improvements. 

Researchers followed the group for up to six years, and found that those who became more fit were 60 percent less likely to die during the follow up period.

The exercise also helped reduce stress levels among the participants, with 10 percent of patients being stressed prior to the fitness regime but less than 5 percent being stressed after the program.  This in turn lowered the death rate for these patients by 20 percent.

Since the patients’ weight remained fairly constant throughout the study, the benefits were most likely derived from exercise alone.

Health advocated embraced the study, saying the research further confirmed the benefits of exercise.

“This study proves once again that exercise has both psychological and physical benefits for patients with heart disease,” said the British Heart Foundation in an interview with Britain’s Daily Express.

“Health authorities must ensure that all suitable heart patients are offered cardiac rehabilitation.”

“Structured, well-resourced programs have been shown to improve physical and psychological wellbeing and reduce mortality.”

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