Regardless of Your Weight, Exercising Fights Heart Disease

Here goes one more excuse for not exercising, right out the window: Even if you're overweight or obese, regular physical activity reduces your risk for heart disease. It's not just that exercise helps you lose weight. Researchers behind a new study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, suspect that physical activity directly combats heart disease.

Lead author Amy Weinstein, MD, MPH, of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, and colleagues from Brigham and Women's Hospital analyzed data on 38,987 participants in the Women's Health Study. Subjects were age 45 or older and initially free of heart disease. Over an average follow-up period of 10.9 years, there were 948 cases of incident coronary heart disease.

Obese women who burned fewer than 1,000 calories weekly through exercise were 253 times more likely to develop heart disease than active normal-weight women. But obese women who were physically active — expending 1,000 calories a week or more — reduced that relative risk to 1.87 times.

The researchers cautioned, however, that "even high quantities of physical activity are unlikely to fully reverse the risk of [coronary heart disease] in overweight and obese women without concurrent weight loss." They noted that as Body Mass Index (BMI) rose, so did the heart-disease risk.

Nonetheless, getting up off the couch did help. Overall, regardless of weight, women who exercised regularly enjoyed an 18% reduced risk of developing heart disease compared to sedentary subjects.

Dr. Weinstein and colleagues wrote that the mechanism by which physical activity seems to protect the heart even in the obese is unclear. But they speculated that exercise may directly reduce and combat the ill effect of factors released by fat cells that promote thrombosis, the formation of abnormal blood clots.

TO LEARN MORE: Archives of Internal Medicine, April 28, 2008; abstract at .

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For free help from the American Heart Association on starting and sticking with an exercise program, see: and

Did you know… According to a report by Research International USA, frequent fast-food diners are typically male and have higher than average household incomes.

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