We know that participating in physical activity (PA) improves physical and mental health. But how safe is it for people with cardiovascular disease (CVD) to do moderate or vigorous PA? CVD includes a previous heart attack, stroke or heart failure. In the general public, low or moderate PA lower risk of disease and death. More intense physical activity has smaller additional benefits. By contrast, studies among people with established cardiovascular disease have shown conflicting results.
Intensity level of physical activity
In a new report from the Netherlands, researchers followed 150,000 adults who had different levels of PA for almost 7 years. They measured how frequently they had heart attacks and/or strokes as well as early death from cardiovascular disease. The study compared the association between the amount of moderate to vigorous PA with major adverse cardiovascular events (such as stroke) and mortality across three groups of people: 1) healthy people; 2) people with high levels of cardiovascular risk factors (like high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol); and 3) people with established CVD. They also looked at moderate to vigorous physical activity as part of work or leisure.
More is better
Overall, researchers found that moderate to vigorous physical activity is good for healthy people as well as for people with risk factors for CVD. PA is most impactful for people with established CVD. Examples of moderate to vigorous physical activity include dancing, swimming, and playing soccer. Healthy people and people with cardiovascular risk factors who did low to moderate PA had a big reduction in CVD risk. The benefits were not as great at higher intensities of PA. The most healthy benefits came from physical activity when people are at leisure. So, for people with cardiovascular disease, when it comes to physical activity, “more is better.”