COPENHAGEN — How much you exercise may not just dictate your waist size — it also predicts your risk of surviving a heart attack, a new study finds.
Researchers at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark launched their longitudinal research in the late 1970s by looking at more than 14,000 Danish individuals who took part in a survey called the Copenhagen City Heart Study.
Each participant was initially categorized as having lived a lifestyle with either a sedentary, light, moderate, or high level of physical activity. None had previously suffered a heart attack.
The individuals were followed until 2013, at which point it was found that 1,664 of the participants had suffered a heart attack at some point during the study. Of those, 425 died immediately.
After examining the activity rates of those afflicted, the researchers found that those who exercised were significantly more likely to avoid death following their heart attack than those who didn’t.
Even a light level of exercise was found to reduce one’s risk of dying from heart attack by 32 percent over being sedentary. If one exercised to a moderate or high extent, their risk was reduced by 47 percent over their sedentary peers.
“One possible explanation [for this finding] 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,” says lead researcher Eva Prescott, professor of cardiovascular prevention and rehabilitation at the university, in a press release from the European Society of Cardiology. “Exercise may also increase levels of chemical substances that improve blood flow and reduce injury to the heart from a heart attack.”
Still, Prescott emphasizes, “we cannot conclude that the associations are causal. The results need to be confirmed before we can make strong recommendations. But I think it’s safe to say that we already knew exercise was good for health and this might indicate that continuing to exercise even after developing atherosclerosis may reduce the seriousness of a heart attack if it does occur.”
The study’s findings were published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.