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Will Exercise Prevent Heart Failure?

People who are physically active in middle age may be able to prevent heart failure as they grow older. Exercise is an important element of a healthy lifestyle.
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Does it really make a difference whether you exercise? A new study from Johns Hopkins shows that just six years of increased physical activity in middle age may help prevent heart failure later (Florido et al, Circulation, May 15, 2018).

What Is Heart Failure?

Heart failure is the inability of the heart to pump as much blood as the body needs. This condition is a leading cause of hospitalization among seniors.

Move to Prevent Heart Failure:

The investigators studied more than 11,000 adults participating in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study. They found that those who biked, walked briskly or did other moderate to vigorous exercise for 150 minutes a week were 31 percent less likely to develop heart failure two decades later. Couch potatoes who took up exercise cut their heart failure risk by 23 percent. Heart failure risk increased among the participants who decreased their physical activity levels.

This observational study doesn’t demonstrate a cause-and-effect link, but it suggests we should all go out and play. It is not the first study to demonstrate that a healthful lifestyle can help prevent heart failure.

Healthy Lifestyle to Prevent Heart Failure:

A study followed 20,000 male physicians over more than 20 years. Those who maintained a normal body weight, did not smoke, got regular exercise, ate breakfast cereals and a diet rich in vegetables and fruits, and drank moderately were significantly less likely to develop heart failure (Djoussé et al, Journal of American Medical Association, July 22/29, 2009).

Those who followed at least four of these practices had half the lifetime risk of heart failure as those who didn’t follow any of them. Heart failure is a serious condition that can be disabling and hard to treat. Consequently, it is good to know that it may be preventable.

DASH Diet Helps to Prevent Heart Failure:

A vegetable rich diet designed to lower blood pressure also reduces the risk of congestive heart failure (Archives of Internal Medicine, May 11, 2009). Scientists studied 36,000 Swedish women for seven years. Those who came closest to following the criteria for the DASH diet were 37 percent less likely to develop heart failure than those eating less healthfully.

The DASH Diet:

DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. It includes eight to ten daily servings of vegetables and fruits combined with low-fat dairy products, whole grains, and moderate amounts of fish and chicken rather than red meat. Such a diet results in higher levels of minerals such as magnesium, potassium and calcium. It has been shown to lower blood pressure almost as well as many medications. Its ability to prevent heart failure is an added bonus.


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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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On the subject of experimental drugs being made available to dying patients, I agree with the stand Joe and Terry have taken. It makes the most sense.

I’m 73. As far as I know, I have no heart problems, and I exercised vigorously in my forties and fifties with brisk walking and lap swimming. I have continued to walk sporadically and no longer swim. I am currently trying to build up my walking program, as my life has become so sedentary. I’m retired and live in a small condo. I’m either on my bed or my couch most of the day. I’m working up to 45 minutes a day most days of the week, walking as briskly as I can. I suffer from plantar fasciitis so I have to be very careful. An injury can stop the walking for months. Walking also improves my mood, even if it is just 20 minutes of moderately-paced walking.

All exercise may not be equal. I am 86 years old. On Wednesday, I did a lot of walking. Thursday morning my body was very tired. I went for a swim and I was re-invigorated and felt good.

I enjoy reading these helpful hints. Most are easy to adopt and the long-term benefits outweigh the instant gratification that we see so much in today’s modern lifestyle, – at least that’s what I think.

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