Cut your risk of dying from a heart attack in half

Cut your risk of dying from a heart attack in half

Researchers in Copenhagen, Denmark have identified something that can reduce a person’s risk of dying from a heart attack by nearly a whopping 50 percent.

No, it’s not an expensive pill, an extreme diet or even a new “superfood.” It’s simply…exercise.

The new study looked at 14,223 people who had never had a heart attack or stroke. The subjects’ levels of activity were established as a baseline back in 1976-78 and categorized as sedentary, light, moderate or high. The subjects were then followed through registries until 2013.

During the intervening years, 1,664 of the participants had a myocardial infarction, a.k.a., a heart attack. Of these, 425 died immediately.

Researchers then compared the physical activity of those who died from the heart attack with those who survived. They found that those with light or moderate exercise levels were 32 percent and 47 percent less likely to die than those classified as sedentary. For those in the high physical activity category, the survival rate was almost 50 percent.

“One possible explanation is that people who exercise may develop collateral blood vessels in the heart which ensure the heart continues to get enough blood after a blockage,” said study co-author Eva Prescott, professor of cardiovascular prevention and rehabilitation at the University of Copenhagen, in a press release. “Exercise may also increase levels of chemical substances that improve blood flow and reduce injury to the heart from a heart attack.”

While more research is needed, the study does back up what most doctors have been preaching for years: get up and get active.

“If you tend to be sedentary, move more!” says Dr. Raju Shanmugam, an Advocate Medical Group family medicine physician on staff at Advocate BroMenn Medical Center in Bloomington-Normal, Ill. “Do your best to be active for at least 2½ hours every week. Include activities that raise your breathing and heart rates and strengthen your muscles.”

It doesn’t take much to move the needle out of the “sedentary” range. Dr. Dory Jarzabkowski, a cardiologist with Advocate Heart Institute at BroMenn Medical Center, recommends adding more steps to your day.

“There are several ways to sneak walking into your routine without it feeling like exercise,” she says. “Add more steps to your workday. Take the long way to the office copier or the cafeteria. Walk over to see a coworker, instead of calling or emailing. And, if possible, take the stairs instead of the elevator.”

She suggests walking as a family activity in the evening or on weekends or meeting a friend for a walk instead of at a coffee shop. Even parking your car farther from your destination can help.

“Any way you can add steps to your day will pay off in better health,” Dr. Jarzabkowski says.

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  1. patricia m. tell April 20, 2017 at 11:26 am · Reply

    Walking has always been my primary form of exercise,until i broke my leg , and am now in a wheel chair for 12 weeks. Physical therapy is not enough . ????

  2. How did the Copenhagen study define “high Physical activity”?

  3. Eric Alvin

    Hi Joseph — The study defined leisure time physical activity (LTPA) as follows:
    (a) Sedentary: almost completely sedentary or only light physical activity less than 2 hours/week (e.g. reading, television, cinema); (b) Light LTPA: 2–4 hours/week (e.g. walking, cycling, light gardening); (c) Moderate LTPA: Over 4 hours/week or 2–4 hours of more vigorous LTPA (e.g. brisk walking, fast cycling); (d) High LTPA: vigorous LTPA more than 4 hours/week or regular hard training or competitive sport several times a week.

  4. I think many employees of Advocates clinical areas would LOVE to take a walk at meal break, but with only 30 minutes, it simply isn’t possible. If you don’t bring a meal and eat in your area, the lines in the cafeteria make it difficult to eat without gobbling your food. Years ago, people used to smoke in the hospital and now it seems incredible. Maybe sometime in the future, all employees will be able to enjoy a meal break which actually allows time to consume food slowly and take a break from our very stressful positions!

About the Author

Eric Alvin
Eric Alvin

Eric Alvin, health enews contributor, is manager of public affairs and marketing at Advocate BroMenn Medical Center in Normal, Ill. He has more than 20 years of experience in both internal and external health care communications, media relations, and creating online and print marketing content. He has a great love of classic cinema and is a big fan of Turner Classic Movies.