Mild exercise said to lower cardiac risk

Walking found as helpful as strenuous workouts


SEATTLE -- Great news for those who want strong hearts but not badly enough to sweat much: Walking or gardening for at least an hour a week will lower your heart-attack risk just as much as running, aerobics and other heavy-duty exercise.

That's the central finding of a new University of Washington study, which examined the activities of heart-attack patients and healthy people.

Compared with those who don't exercise, people who walk regularly can reduce the risk of cardiac arrest by 73 percent; those who garden regularly can lower the risk by 66 percent. Strenuous exercise for a moderate amount of time also lowers the risk by 66 percent.

"Most of the benefit here is from doing something as opposed to being totally inactive. That is consistent with other studies," said Rozenn Lemaitre, a scientist at the University of Washington's Cardiovascular Health Research Unit and lead author of the report appearing in Monday's edition of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

The university's research is one of the few major studies of moderate exercise and its effect on the risk of cardiac arrest.

A 1987 study of middle-aged men found that moderate exercise was associated with a 40 percent reduction in the risk. The study included many activities, even home repair. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also has recommended a cumulative 30 minutes or more of moderate exercise on most days.

"The good news is that you may not have to do such strenuous activity which actually increases the risk [of cardiac arrest] during the activity," Lemaitre said.

The University of Washington researchers interviewed the spouses of 333 cardiac-arrest victims who were attended to by paramedics in King County between 1988 and 1994, and 503 healthy residents of about the same age and sex. Most of the cardiac-arrest victims died.

Ages of the study participants ranged from 25 to 74. Fourteen percent of the cardiac-arrest victims did no activity compared with 4 percent of the 503 healthy residents.

The study results made adjustments for those with existing heart-attack risks, including smoking, diabetes, hypertension and general health status. Walking for exercise and gardening were selected for the study because the largest number of participants did one or both and thus they could best be analyzed.

People who said they walked for exercise -- not just for pleasure -- were in the walker category. Gardening included just about any activity -- mowing, raking, pulling weeds and other activities.

Median amounts of time spent per week were 173 minutes for the walkers and 210 minutes for the gardeners, compared with 50 minutes for those who participated in such activities as biking, aerobics, jogging, swimming, tennis and skiing.

Pub Date: 4/15/99

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