Boosting duration, intensity & frequency of physical activity may lower heart failure risk: The study, in Circulation, is one of the first to examine the association between objectively measured physical activity levels and heart failure risk independently of sociodemographic, lifestyle and clinical factors

A six-year analysis of more than 94,000 adults in the U.K. Biobank with no history of heart failure at enrollment has found that engaging in moderate or vigorous physical activity may lower the risk of developing heart failure, according to new research published today in the American Heart Association’s flagship journal Circulation.

The study is one of the first to use objectively measured activity levels to estimate heart failure risk. The results are consistent with previous studies finding that performing 150-300 minutes of moderate exercise or 75-150 minutes of vigorous exercise each week may reduce the incidence of heart attack and stroke.

Heart failure is a chronic, progressive condition that develops when the heart is not capable of pumping sufficient blood to keep up with the body’s needs for blood and oxygen, and it can result in fatigue and difficulty breathing. Heart failure affects more than 6 million adults in the United States, according to the American Heart Association, and more than 86,000 Americans died of heart failure in 2019. The Association recommends adults should engage in at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity.

“There are many potential ways that regular physical activity may reduce the risk of developing heart failure,” said Frederick K. Ho, Ph.D., co-lead author of the study and a lecturer in public health at the University of Glasgow in Glasgow, Scotland. “For example, physical activity helps prevent weight gain and related cardiometabolic conditions, such as high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes, all of which are risk factors for heart failure. Regular physical exercise may also strengthen the heart muscle, which, in turn, may prevent heart failure from developing.”

The investigators analyzed the health records of 94,739 adults aged 37-73 in the U.K. Biobank — a large research database in the United Kingdom that enrolled and collected health information on 500,000 adults who received care through the National Health Service. The participants in the U.K. Biobank were enrolled in the database between 2006 and 2010 across Scotland, England and Wales.

Data for this study was gathered between 2013-2015. During that time period, the subset of 94,739 participants were randomly invited to enroll in the study via the email address they had provided to the U.K. Biobank. Participants were an average age of 56 years at enrollment; 57% were female, and 96.6% were white adults. At the time each participant was invited, enrolled and analyzed, they had not been diagnosed with heart failure or had a heart attack. Each participant wore a wrist accelerometer for seven consecutive days, 24 hours per day, to measure the intensity and duration of physical activity. After enrollment, data was collected through linked hospital and death records.

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