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The more you move, the better your heart is

A recent study found that middle-aged women and older Black adults who weren’t physically active during their free time were most at risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.

Looking for another reason to get off your couch? 

A new study co-led by Jamal S. Rana, MD, PhD, an adjunct investigator with the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research and a cardiologist at Kaiser Permanente Northern California in Oakland, reinforces the importance of exercise in keeping hearts healthy.

Jamal Rana, MD
Dr. Jamal Rana

The study found that the highest heart-disease death rates occurred in the counties where people reported the lowest rates of physical activity in their free time. Of the inactive adults, middle-aged women and older Black adults were most at risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.

“Social determinants of health undoubtedly play an important role in our findings,” Dr. Rana said. “People living in underserved communities face many barriers, including fewer safe places for recreation, erratic work hours, and scarce child support.”

For the study, Dr. Rana and his colleagues analyzed rates of leisure-time physical activity collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC)  Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey and annual rates of death from heart disease in 2,900 U.S. counties. Of the responses analyzed, 7.38 million people died from heart disease between 2011 and 2019.

The study, published in The British Journal of Sports Medicine recently, also found that people living in communities with higher levels of air pollution were less likely to be physically active during their free time.

The researchers said their findings show why it is necessary for policymakers to implement public health programs that aim to boost physical activity, especially in high-risk communities.

Better strategies needed

“Our findings suggest to us that existing interventions aimed at promoting physical activity may not be effectively reaching communities most in need and that more effective strategies are needed,” said lead author Shady Abohashem, MD, MPH, an investigator in cardiovascular medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Previous studies have shown that people who are physically activity and exercise are less likely to develop or die from cardiovascular disease. The CDC recently reported that 1 in 4 U.S. adults do not engage in leisure-time physical activity.

The researchers said their findings support the goals and approaches of the CDC’s Healthy People 2030 initiative, which seeks to reduce the percentage of sedentary Americans from 25% to 21% by 2030.

“One of the best things you can do for your heart health is to exercise as much as possible during your free time,” said Dr. Rana. “Walk, work on a computer standing up, run in place. It does not have to be fancy exercise. Simply move more!”  


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