Why maintaining a certain level of physical activity is crucial for your heart health

Over time, we tend to do less and less physical activity. According to a recent cohort study that followed more than 5,000 people for 30 years, each annual drop in physical activity increases premature cardiovascular risk by 2 to 28%.

The beginning of the active life, the appearance of children in our lives or other particular situations can lead us to do less and less sport with the passing of time. For our overall health, however, it is important to maintain a certain level of physical activity and even more so for our heart. Indeed, a recent prospective epidemiological study published in theInternational Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity having followed more than 5,000 patients over 30 years suggests that as we reduce our physical activity over time, our cardiovascular risk increases.

An overall risk of + 15% if the time of physical activity decreases

The Cardia study (for Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults) followed thousands of participants from different American cities: Birmingham, Chicago, Minneapolis and Oakland. Its objective was to determine whether changes in the level of physical activity between the age of majority and the thirties are important for cardiovascular risk, that is, for dangerous events such as coronary heart disease, heart attacks or strokes. The researchers started from the following hypotheses: low levels of physical activity at the age of 18 and a declining level of physical activity throughout adulthood would be associated with premature cardiovascular events, i.e. say before the age of 60.

Given their results, their hypotheses are confirmed. Indeed, compared to those for whom the level of physical activity remains stable, those whose level declines have between 2 and 28% risk of suffering from coronary disease, between 5 and 38% of heart attack and between 4 and 39% to have a stroke. The investigators also demonstrated that this follows a dose-response relationship: each unit of reduction in physical activity increases the risk of premature stroke. We should nevertheless remember a strong limitation of the study: the participants themselves reported their physical activity; which makes the measurement less reliable than wearing an accelerometer. Indeed, whether it is the accuracy of memories or the social desirability bias, both can impact the accuracy of reported physical activity levels.

What to do to maintain physical activity?

Getting young and old alike active is a major public health issue. Bringing a taste for effort from an early age and simplifying access to sports structures must be two primary objectives for the body politic.

Doing physical activity should become as natural as eating breakfast

For parents, educators and health professionals, it is important to identify several things depending on the public they are dealing with. For active people, it is necessary to identify the activities where they take pleasure, where they feel good, autonomous and competent. For older people, whether they are independent or in an institution, it is generally necessary to deconstruct false beliefs around movement and pain, and to identify the barriers to the practice of physical activity in order to better combat them.

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