Even low physical fitness, up to 20% below the average for healthy people, is sufficient to prevent risk factors like diabetes, hypertension and obesity that affect people with cardiovascular disease, a new study has claimed.
“This is great news for people with heart disease who have difficulty adhering to a regular - mainly aerobic - exercise programme,” said Daniel Curnier, a professor at the University of Montreal (UdeM) in Canada, who led the study.
“Small improvements in their fitness level are enough. You don’t have to be a great athlete to benefit from these effects,” said Curnier.
“We know from many studies that good physical fitness reduces cardiovascular mortality, and that physical activity has a positive impact on cardiovascular risk factors following a rehab programme,” said Maxime Caru, a doctoral student in human kinetics at UdeM and lead author of the study.
To measure the impact of physical fitness on heart disease risk factors, the researchers selected 205 men and 44 women with heart disease, including coronary artery disease, stroke, congestive heart failure and heart valve disease, and had them undergo a cycle ergometer (stationary bike) stress test to determine their fitness level.
The results showed that normal physical fitness, even up to 20 per cent below the population average, is sufficient to have a preventive effect on five of the eight risk factors affecting people with cardiovascular disease - abdominal circumference, diabetes, hypertension, obesity and excess weight.
Normal physical fitness means having the physical fitness of a person of the same weight, height, sex and age, and who is disease-free.
The easiest way to achieve this is to follow the recommendations of the World Health Organisation - 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise, researchers said.
Depression is a significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease because cardiac patients who have experienced a depressive episode have recurring heart problems.
The results of the study have demonstrated the importance of a good fitness level, before and after a heart attack, to produce the preventive effect on depression.
The study sheds new light on the overall role of physical fitness in the development of cardiovascular risk factors in patients with cardiovascular disease.
However, the researchers stress the importance for cardiac patients to consult their doctor before embarking on an exercise programme and to consult a kinesiologist.
The study appears in the Journal of Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation and Prevention.