Cut Heart Disease Risk in Half

Healthnotes Newswire (September 21, 2006)—It’s never too late to start getting health-promoting physical activity, especially if you have coronary heart disease. New research, published in the medical journal Heart, shows that even changes later in life can reduce heart disease risk by half.

“Our results suggest that a more active physical activity pattern is clearly associated with a reduced risk of [coronary heart disease],” said Dr. Dietrich Rothenbacher, lead author of the study and research associate and deputy department chair of the Department of Epidemiology at the University of Heidelberg’s German Centre for Research on Ageing.

Dr. Rothenbacher and colleagues studied 312 people, ages 40 to 68, who had coronary heart disease and a matching control group of 479 people without the disease. Each person was interviewed about his or her physical activity during each of the following age spans: 20 to 39 years, 40 to 49 years, and 50 years and older. Physical activity within each age span was rated on a four-level scale: rarely active, a little active, somewhat active, and very active. The physical activity patterns between early adulthood (between ages 20 and 39) were compared with the physical activity patterns in later adulthood.

Established risk factors such as history of cigarette smoking, hypertension, and diabetes were more common among people with heart disease than among controls.

Compared with people who reported having been rarely or a little physically active in both early and later adulthood, the odds of getting coronary heart disease was reduced by 55% in those who changed their physical activity pattern to a somewhat or very active lifestyle. When this category was broken up, it became clear that the risk reduction was driven by people who changed their physical activity pattern from rare or a little physical activity before age 40 to very active in later adulthood (this group had a 90% risk reduction).

People who reported a somewhat or very active physical activity pattern between ages 20 and 39 and a change to rare or little physical activity in later adulthood still had significantly (45% risk reduction) decreased risk compared with those with rare or little physical activity in both early and later adulthood. Those people with a somewhat or very active physical activity pattern in both early and later adulthood had a 62% risk reduction.

“Changing from a sedentary to a more physically active lifestyle even in later adulthood may strongly decrease [coronary heart disease] risk,” concluded Dr. Rothenbacher.

(Heart 2006;92:1319–20)

Jeremy Appleton, ND, CNS, is a licensed naturopathic physician, certified nutrition specialist, and published author. Dr. Appleton was the Nutrition Department Chair at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine, has served on the faculty at Bastyr University of Natural Health Sciences, and is a former Healthnotes Senior Science Editor and a founding contributor to Healthnotes Newswire. He has worked extensively in scientific and regulatory affairs in the supplement industry and is now a consultant through his company Praxis Natural Products Consulting and Wellness Services.

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