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Occupational Activity Can Help Your Heart

September 25, 2010

Walking or riding a bicycle to work, and staying active during the day, could help stave off heart failure, a new Finnish study suggests.

Not only is leisure-time physical activity a major component of a healthy lifestyle, but so is occupational activity and daily walking or cycling to and from work, senior researcher Dr. Gang Hu of Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, told Reuters Health via e-mail.

Past studies found positive effects of regular physical activity on heart disease and stroke. However, researchers had not explored the impact of exercise on the risk of heart failure, and the unique roles of leisure and non-leisure activities on the condition.

Currently, more than 5 million Americans suffer from heart failure.

In an effort to find the root effects of occupational, commuting and leisure-time physical activity on the risk of heart failure, Hu and his team studied nearly 60,000 Finnish men and women who participated in surveys conducted from 1972 to 2002.

During an average follow-up of 18 years, about 6 percent of the men and women developed heart failure.

Leisure-time physical activity significantly lowered the risk among both men and women. Men, who exercised vigorously at least three times a week got the biggest benefit: a 47 percent lower risk of heart failure than inactive men.

After taking age and the year in which each participant started the study into account, the team found that men who had moderate or high occupational activity had about a 25 percent lower risk of heart failure, compared to those who sat around in an office all day long.

Women who exercised vigorously had a 33 percent lower risk for heart failure, and those who had moderate to high occupational activity had a 13 percent lower risk of heart failure.

Women who walked or cycled to work also had a reduced risk of heart failure compared to those who drove or used other transportation, even after adjusting for leisure-time and occupational physical activity.

“Increases in computerization and mechanization that have resulted in ever-increasing numbers of people being sedentary for most of their time,” said Hu, advising that people try to incorporate exercise into their work breaks, active commuting, and physical activity during leisure time to avoid heart failure.

Treatment for heart failure can include drugs or implanted devices that stimulate the heart to beat properly, or surgery to correct mechanical defects.

Researchers report their findings in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

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