CHICAGO – People who avoid exercising for fear of triggering a heart attack may actually court early death, according to a University of Michigan study showing that even moderate physical activity can sharply reduce the chance of dying among people with diabetes, high blood pressure and other cardiovascular risk factors.
In fact, people at high risk for heart disease benefit more from exercise than healthy people who exercise, said the university’s Dr. Caroline Richardson.
While an increasing number of physicians are recommending exercise for patients with chronic health problems, many physicians are still reluctant to prescribe exercise to high-risk patients, Richardson said.
“There’s always the fear in the back of a physician’s head that a patient might have a heart attack while exercising and that it would be his advice that led to it,” she said. “That’s sort of left over from our historical belief that physical activity was not good for people with risk factors.”
The study looked at a representative sample of 9,611 Americans nationwide, starting in their 50s and early 60s, and following them for eight years. It is the first study that looks at the effects of exercise on people of all risk levels, not just those who have had heart attacks or undergone surgery to repair clogged coronary arteries.
Among those with the highest risk of heart disease, those who did exercise cut their chance of dying over the eight-year period by 45 percent compared with high-risk individuals who remained sedentary, she reported in the current issue of the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.
Healthy people who exercised reduced their risk of death by 35 percent, compared with healthy people who were inactive, she said.
An estimated 1.2 million Americans suffer heart attacks each year and more than 500,000 of them die.