By Mayo Clinic StaffMayo Clinic StaffAs many as one-third of people in the U.S. have an unhealthy level of heart disease, according to a new study.
And while some of the most common causes of heart problems include obesity, lack of exercise and high blood pressure, the findings suggest the most effective way to prevent heart disease and its related complications is to change how you exercise, said Dr. David Siegel, a Mayo Clinic cardiologist and a co-author of the study.
The findings are published in the journal Circulation.
In a recent study, researchers from the University of Arizona and Johns Hopkins University examined data from nearly 3,000 adults in the United States who completed questionnaires about their physical activity, weight, and cholesterol levels.
Those with the highest levels of heart-related risk factors were at greater risk for cardiovascular disease, such as high blood sugar and high cholesterol, and those with lower levels of risk factors, such a lower blood pressure or cholesterol.
In that study, the average heart-healthy person was about 75 percent less likely to have a heart attack.
“If we can change our lifestyles, we can decrease heart disease risk and prevent many of the complications of heart failure,” said Dr, Siegel.
The researchers focused on how different types of exercise — from walking to jogging to cycling — may be associated with changes in heart health and how these changes relate to exercise-related disease risk factors.
“Exercise and its associated metabolic and cardiovascular benefits are one of the biggest determinants of heart health,” said co-senior author Dr. Thomas Kappel, an assistant professor in the Department of Medicine at Johns Hopkins.
“This study is the first to examine how different exercise behaviors may affect the risk of heart events.”
Among the study’s findings:For example, those who engaged in aerobic exercise had lower levels in certain cardiovascular risk factors — high blood glucose, high blood pressures, and high levels of LDL — than people who did not exercise, but those with higher levels of these risk factors also had lower risk of cardiovascular events compared with those who exercised less.
The participants who engaged most in moderate-intensity exercise had the lowest cardiovascular risk markers.
The participants who exercised for the most amount of time also had a lower risk than those who did little or no exercise.
In contrast, people who exercised more than five hours a week had the highest cardiovascular risk indicators, including the risk for heart attacks and strokes.
People who exercised regularly had the most heart-health-promoting benefits, according the researchers.
They also had the least risk for a heart-attack or stroke, which could be due to the exercise itself, such that people who exercise regularly may be more likely to avoid such a potentially life-threatening event.
However, people with high levels in LDL, a type of cholesterol that may be a risk factor for heart disease but is not considered a risk in people without high blood cholesterol levels, had the greatest cardiovascular risk.
People with higher LDL levels were also more likely than people with lower LDL levels to experience heart attacks, strokes, and heart failure.
“We don’t yet know why higher levels in some people are associated with lower risk,” said Siegel who is also a member of the Cardiovascular Genetics Research Institute at Johns, which led the study, and co-authors Dr. Joseph C. DiCarlo, a professor of medicine at Johns and professor of epidemiology at the University at Buffalo, and Dr. Robert P. DeFronzo, a cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic.
“The finding that people with higher cholesterol levels may be at greater health risk is interesting.
But the study is not saying that high cholesterol levels are a major risk factor.
Rather, the higher levels suggest that people at higher risk are more likely.”
The findings are based on the participants’ self-reported exercise behaviors and physical activity levels over time.
Siegel and his co-workers also analyzed the participants health records from 2008-2012 to determine if they were obese or overweight.
People who reported being obese or overweight were more likely for heart problems such as heart attack or stroke and for certain cardiovascular diseases.
“It is a pretty remarkable finding,” said David Gersh, a researcher at the Cleveland Clinic Center for Exercise and Metabolism.
“A study like this should be able to predict cardiovascular risk, and it’s not.”
For more information on heart health, visit Mayo Clinic’s Prevention, Treatment and Care of Cardiovascular Disease page.
For more on the study findings, visit the Mayo Clinical Center.