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.