After recovering from a heart attack, many people want to take it easy. Understandably, they are afraid to exert themselves for fear they could have another heart attack.
So they rest and avoid exercise. Or if they do work out, they go easy.
A major new study shows that this is not only the wrong strategy, it could be a deadly one.
Swedish researchers analyzed the link between physical activity and death rates after a heart attack.
The study included over 22,000 patients who had a heart attack between 2005 and 2013. The patients were between 18 and 74 years old.1
The researchers gathered data on their physical activity starting at six to 10 weeks after the subjects’ heart attacks.
Scientists divided the participants into four groups based on how often they exercised each week:
- No exercise or just one workout.
- One or two workouts.
- More than two workouts.
- Seven or more workouts.
Researchers followed the participants in all four groups for an average of four years after their heart attacks.
Exercise Cuts Death Risk in Half
During the study, 1,087 (about 5%) of the subjects died. And how often exercised was directly linked to their chances of survival.
Compared to subjects who exercised only once a week or not at all, the researchers found that the risk of death was:
- 37% lower for those who exercised once or twice a week.
- 51% lower for those who exercised more than twice a week.
- 59% lower for those who exercised seven or more times a week.
Dr. Örjan Ekblom is an associate professor in physical activity at the Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences in Stockholm. He was lead author of the study.
“Our study shows that patients can reduce their risk of death by becoming physically active after a heart attack,” he said.2
The study was presented recently at the European Society of Cardiology meeting in Slovenia.
The Best Exercise for Your Heart
Dr. Ekblom said that the study did not investigate what type of exercise is best for heart patients. But previous research has.
An earlier study of heart disease patients found that one type of exercise “caused a reversal of decades of a sedentary lifestyle.”3
It is called high-intensity interval training (HIIT). And you can apply it to just about any type of cardio exercise….a treadmill, bike, elliptical machine, stair climber, rowing machine, running, or swimming.
HIIT improves your aerobic capacity. This is the amount of oxygen that your body is able to use. It’s critical to your heart—and overall—health. Research shows that high aerobic capacity could be the best predictor of 10-year survival rates among heart patients.4
The basic formula for HIIT is simple. Warm up for three to five minutes in your chosen exercise.
Then do the exercise at the highest intensity level you can for the next minute. Then slow down for the next minute or two to catch your breath.
Repeat this process five to seven times. Then cool down for at least two minutes.
The idea is to push your body as hard as you can for a brief burst, and then allow it to recover.
The entire workout can be as short as 20 minutes. It works best if you do it at least four times a week.
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