GENTLE exercise can dramatically cut the danger of an early death from heart disease, according to new research.
Just 30 minutes of jogging or cycling three times a week has amazing results for people with heart problems – the UK’s biggest killer – a study has found.
In just three months it slashed the risk of an early death by 60 per cent in those who followed the fitness regime.
The results will come as welcome news for thousands of Britons who suffer from heart-related illness.
One-in-five men and one-in-seven women die of heart disease in the UK, equivalent to 250 deaths a day. Overall, 200,000 people die each year from conditions related to circulation, including strokes, heart attacks and heart disease.
These figures are expected to go up as the population ages and thanks also to a rise in obesity, which leads to furring of arteries.
The study, released today, found the biggest gains were in patients who were also stressed. The authors believe it is because stress can quadruple the risk of death in people with heart problems.
Exercise can offer the double benefit of reducing stress levels while also improving heart health.
The study concludes: “Exercise reduces mortality in patients with coronary artery disease…in part because of the effects on psychosocial stress.”
Patients with heart problems are usually put on drugs – statins to lower cholesterol and blood pressure pills – to reduce the risks.
But in recent years the NHS been pushing a rehabilitation programme that includes advice on diet, exercise, smoking and stress.
Previous studies have demonstrated a wealth of life-prolonging benefits from exercise.
People who work out have a lower risk of contracting long-term conditions such as cancer, heart disease and neurological disorders. It also slows death and disability rates.
Exercise acts by improving the health of hearts and arteries, strengthening bones and reducing inflammation. It also boosts the immune system and improves thinking, learning and memory.
This latest study by the Department of Cardiology in New Orleans and published in the American Journal of Medicine reveals in detail just how much these simple changes can boost lifespan.
The team followed 522 cardiac patients, including 53 who had high stress levels and 27 control patients who had high stress levels but who refused cardiac rehabilitation.
Patients were offered 12 weeks of exercise classes, where they did 10 minutes of warm-up, 30 to 40 minutes of aerobic exercise such as walking, rowing or jogging, and then a 10-minute stretch to wind down.
The classes were three times a week and patients were also asked to try to do a further one-to-three exercise sessions a week.
They were also given advice on how to improve diet and lifestyle, and their progress was followed for up to six years.
Those who got fitter were 60 per cent less likely to die in the following six years. Exercise also helped reduce stress levels from one-in-10 patients to fewer than one-in-20 which in turn lowered the death rate for stressed patients by 20 per cent.
However, the weight of patients did not change much, suggesting the benefits are from exercise alone.
Health charities welcomed the report. The British Heart Foundation, said: “This study proves once again that exercise has both psychological and physical benefits for patients with heart disease.
“Health authorities must ensure that all suitable heart patients are offered cardiac rehabilitation.
“Structured, well-resourced programmes have been shown to improve physical and psychological wellbeing and reduce mortality.”