Study finds intense exercise is better for heart health

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A woman exercisingBy Jennifer HarbyBBC News

Intense physical activity has increased heart health benefits, research has found.

Researchers in Leicester, Cambridge and the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) used activity trackers to monitor 88,000 people.

The research showed there was a greater reduction in cardiovascular disease risk when activity was of at least moderate intensity.

Researchers said more intense activity had a "substantial" benefit.

'Every move counts'

The study, published in the European Heart Journal, found that while physical activity of any kind had health benefits, there was a greater reduction in cardiovascular disease risk when exercise was of at least moderate intensity.

The study, led by researchers at NIHR, Leicester Biomedical Research Centre and the University of Cambridge, analysed more than 88,412 middle-aged UK participants via activity trackers on their wrists.

The authors found total physical activity volume was strongly associated with a decrease in cardiovascular disease risk.

They also demonstrated that getting more of the total physical activity volume from moderate-to-vigorous physical activity was associated with a further reduction in cardiovascular risk.

Cardiovascular disease rates were 14% lower when moderate-to-vigorous physical activity accounted for 20%, rather than 10%, of overall physical activity energy expenditure, even in those that otherwise had low levels of activity.

This was equivalent to converting a daily 14-minute stroll into a brisk seven-minute walk, they said.

Current physical activity guidelines from the UK Chief Medical Officers recommend adults should aim to be active every day, undertaking 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity — such as running — every week.

Researchers said until recently it had not been clear if overall physical activity volume was more important for health or if more vigorous activity conferred additional benefits.

Dr Paddy Dempsey, research fellow at the University of Leicester and Medical Research Council (MRC) epidemiology unit at the University of Cambridge, said: "Without accurate records of physical activity duration and intensity, it hasn't been possible to sort out the contribution of more vigorous physical activity from that of overall physical activity volume.

"Wearable devices helped us to accurately detect and record the intensity and duration of movement.

"Moderate and vigorous intensity activity gives a greater reduction in the overall risk of early death.

"More vigorous physical activity may also reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, over and above the benefit seen from the total amount of physical activity, as it stimulates the body to adapt to the higher effort required."

Prof Tom Yates, professor of physical activity, sedentary behaviour and health at the university, said: "We found that achieving the same overall amount of physical activity through higher-intensity activity has a substantial additional benefit.

"Our findings support simple behaviour-change messages that 'every move counts' to encourage people to increase their overall physical activity, and if possible to do so by incorporating more moderately intense activities.

"This could be as simple as converting a leisurely stroll into a brisk walk."

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