10 September 2021

It’s Time to Get Active

Welcome back. In the earliest days of this blog, I described the evolution of my daily exercise routine (Time to Exercise). The foundation was laid on a UN project in 1982, during which our team visited the Tien Shan Mountains in northwestern China. When I returned to Cornell, my mentor, colleague and friend, Prof. Ta Liang, who had come to the U.S. from China after World War II, advised me that, because I’d seen Heavenly Lake, I would live forever.

Warren and UN project counterparts at Heavenly Lake, Tien Shan Mountains, Xinjiang, China.
Although I trusted Ta implicitly, as I got older, I decided that I’d better hedge my bet. I started exercising.

All this is to say that starting to exercise at any age can have major health benefits. This was shown in a study presented at the European Society of Cardiology Congress by a researcher at Switzerland’s University of Bern.

I was hesitant to blog about this study for a few reasons: (1) the research was presented at a conference, not published in a peer-reviewed journal; (2) I’d be blogging about a study, without seeing the paper; and (3) the research focused on health benefits for coronary heart disease patients.

I went ahead for a few reasons: (1) though the conference submission may not have been peer-reviewed, the study involved a meta-analysis of published research that would have been peer-reviewed; (2) the study focused on cardiovascular disease mortality but included all-cause mortality; (3) considering the research and researcher, the paper will likely be published if submitted; and (4) I didn’t want to wait a year to share the findings.

The New Study
The researcher conducted a meta-analysis, combining results from nine separate studies, to investigate the relationship of physical activity with the risk of cardiovascular disease death. In all, 33,576 patients (average age 62.5 years, 34% female) with coronary heart disease were included.

The patients were classified as physically active or inactive using validated questionnaires at baseline and after a median of 7.2 years. Definitions of active and inactive varied across the different studies but were in line with the 2016 European Guidelines on cardiovascular disease prevention in clinical practice for healthy people--at least 150 minutes/week of moderate intensity or 75 minutes/week of vigorous activity, or some combination.

Patients were categorized into four groups according to their activity status at both baseline and follow-up: inactive over time, active over time, increased activity over time, and decreased activity over time. All of the studies defined “increased activity over time” as changing from the inactive to the active category and “decreased activity over time” as changing from the active to the inactive category.

Each of the four groups was assessed against the risks of all-cause and cardiovascular disease deaths at 7.2 years after baseline.

Wrap Up
Compared to patients who were inactive over time, the risk of all-cause death was 50% lower in those who were active over time, 45% lower in those who were inactive but became active, and 20% lower in those who had been active but became inactive.

Continuing the same comparison, the risk of death due to cardiovascular disease, was 51% lower in those who remained active over time, 27% lower for those who were inactive but became active, and statistically the same for those whose activity decreased over time.

Although regular physical activity over the years offered the greatest longevity, starting later in life offered heart disease patients significant survival benefits. But those benefits were reduced or even lost if the physical activity was not maintained.

So do yourself a favor--continue or start exercising. Thanks for stopping by. 

Some of Warren’s low-cost exercise paraphernalia: stationary bike (especially for bad weather, less than $200), running/walking shoes, mat, free weights, bungee cord, shorts, hat, t-shirt (optional for predawn), reflective vest (mainly for predawn); dress warmer in winter.
The European Society of Cardiology (ESC): www.escardio.org/The-ESC
ESC Congress 2021--The Digital Experience: www.escardio.org/Congresses-&-Events/ESC-Congress
Congress program: digital-congress.escardio.org/ESC-Congress/programme
Study author: www.ispm.unibe.ch/about_us/staff/gonzalez_nathalia/index_eng.html
Study title: Physical activity trajectories are associated with the risk of all-cause and cardiovascular disease mortality in patients with coronary heart disease. A systematic review and meta-analysis.
Article on study on EurekAlert! website: www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/925989
European Guidelines on cardiovascular disease prevention: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4986030/

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