Aerobic activity, the ability of the heart, vascular network, and lungs to perform work, is important for good health. Good aerobic fitness (aerobic capacity) is linked with a lower risk of heart disease, various forms of cancer, lower rates of metabolic disorders, better mental health, lower odds of premature death from all-cause and specific diseases. Now a meta-analysis (analysis looking at many studies) has shown that higher levels of aerobic fitness are associated with a lower risk for heart failure.
Heart failure is a major health concern and can affect people who have had a heart attack (myocardial infarction) or have hypertension which is uncontrolled and other disorders. Congestive heart failure is the leading cause of hospitalization of people over the age of 65 and affects more than 5-million Americans. Even though the term failure is used, the heart can still pump blood, just not sufficient to meet the demands of the body. There are three basic types of heart failure – right and left-sided heart failure and congestive heart failure. In short, right-sided failure is when blood returning to the heart becomes “backed up” in body tissues due to the weak right side of the heart. This usually happens because of left-sided heart failure which eventually stresses then damages the right side of the heart. Left side heart failure can be divided into two types; systolic (contraction) and diastolic (relaxation). In either case, the heart loses the ability to pump blood to meet the oxygen demands of body tissues. The heart may try to adapt to maintain its pumping ability which is called “compensation”. When heart failure becomes “decompensated” fluids build up in the lungs and it is called congestive heart failure (CHF). The main symptoms of CHF are shortness of breath, wheezing or coughing, fatigue, reduced exercise capacity, reduced appetite, nausea, mental confusion, and fluid build-up in the legs. If you’d like to see a great animation of the normal and heart in failure click here.
Back to the study on aerobic capacity
The current analysis looked at 10 cohort studies (a study of a group of people over a long period of time) which included a total of over 150,000 participants. The study found a relationship between levels of aerobic fitness and heart failure rates. This was true for both males and females, and people with diabetes, hypertension, or existing cardiovascular disease. The study demonstrated a reduction of 18% per 1-MET (a measure of work) higher in aerobic fitness and an increase of 21% per 1-MET increase over time. The study also found the reduction was dose-dependent (generally, meaning the relationship between the amount and result).
What does this mean?
People who wish to prevent heart failure should do activities to improve their aerobic fitness. One of the significant findings is that persons with risk factors for heart failure benefited. People with existing cardiovascular disease, including hypertension, benefited from improving their aerobic fitness, not just “healthy” people. Thus, it pays for people who have cardiovascular disease, including hypertension to engage in activities such as walking every day. For the healthy older adult 9-12 months of aerobic exercise can improve aerobic capacity by 19% in men and 22% in women! Cardiac rehabilitation should be offered to all persons who meet the admission criteria. Talk to your doctor if you think you are a candidate for cardiac rehabilitation services.
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