Reading time: 4 – 6 minutes
New research suggests that the intensity of exercise might be more important than the quantity in helping to prevent death from heart disease and other causes.
In a study presented last week at the European Society of Cardiology Congress 2011, scientists described new research that examined the relationship between exercise duration, exercise intensity, and total risk of death . Lead researcher Peter Schnohr of Copenhagen, Denmark explained that both male and female cyclists had a decreased total risk of death if they cycled vigorously (by their own perception), but that cycling duration didn’t show a similar protective effect.
Schnohr found that male cyclists who rode at an intense level of effort lived, on average, 5.3 years longer than those who cycled slowly. Men who cycled at moderate intensity lived an average of 2.9 years longer than the leisurely cyclists. For women, vigorous and moderate cyclists lived 3.9 and 2.2 years longer, respectively, than those who rode at a slow pace.
While vigorous cycling was correlated with a reduced risk of death from all causes, the correlation between vigorous cycling and reduced risk of death from coronary heart disease was particularly strong. Across all ages and genders and adjusted to account for differences in activities, risk factors, and behaviors such as smoking, people who rode vigorously for 30 minutes per day had only 18% the risk of dying from coronary heart disease as compared to those who rode slowly.
Coronary heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States , and inactivity is a major heart disease risk factor. Currently, the American Heart Association recommends plenty of exercise — at least 150 minutes per week — to decrease risk of coronary heart disease .
There are several reasons exercise is though to be so protective against coronary heart disease. People who exercise regularly are less likely to be overweight and have high blood pressure, both of which are risk factors for heart disease. Additionally, exercise can also help improve cholesterol levels, decreasing LDL and increasing HDL.
Schnohr’s latest study strengthens the correlation between exercise intensity and reduced risk of death that he and colleagues first reported in 2007 . The earlier study found that vigorous walking decreased risk of death from all causes more than average-effort walking, which nevertheless showed a protective effect as compared to slow walking.
Despite the emphasis on exercise duration by the American Heart Association, Schnohr was unable to correlate exercise duration with risk of death in either study. Based upon his findings, Schnohr suggests it’s healthiest to find time to exercise vigorously for at least 30 minutes every day of the week.
- Cycling fast: vigorous daily exercise recommended for a longer life. European Society of Cardiology press release. 2011 Aug 29.
- Heron et al. Deaths: Final data for 2006. National Vital Statistics Reports. 2009 Apr;57(14).
- American Heart Association Guidelines. Accessed 2011 Sep 4.
- Schnohr et al. Intensity versus duration of walking: Impact on mortality: the Copenhagen City Heart Study. Eur J Cardiovasc Prev Rehabil 2007;14:72-78.