As a condition with no cure, heart failure, or the progressive weakening of your heart, is definitely one to avoid. An eye-opening stat: Half of all people diagnosed with it die within the following five years as the heart becomes unable to effectively pump blood and oxygen throughout the body. Do you want to never have that happen to you? Thanks to a new study led by researchers from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, we now know about something specific…and pretty easy…that can prevent it. It involves exercise—a specific amount of sustained exercise.

THE OTHER HEART CONDITION

You’re likely familiar with heart problems such as coronary artery disease, with artery blockage that can lead to a heart attack. Heart failure isn’t as well-known. It can stem from the wear and tear caused by another heart condition, diabetes or high blood pressure. But it also can result from a sedentary lifestyle.

For the study, which was published in the journal Circulation, researchers followed 11,000 men and women, ages 45 to 64, with no history of cardiovascular disease. They reviewed these people’s exercise habits at the start of the study and then again after six years. At both points, each person’s exercise level was rated as “recommended,” “intermediate” or “poor”—recommended if it met the American Heart Association guidelines of at least 75 minutes per week of vigorous physical activity or at least 150 minutes per week of any combination of vigorous and moderate physical activity…intermediate if there was some exercise but not enough to meet those guidelines…and poor if there was no exercise at all. Then, for the final part of the study, researchers looked at the participants’ incidence of heart failure over the following 19 years.

Results: As you might expect, participants who consistently met activity recommendations over the course of the study—with exercise as simple as brisk walking or bicycling for 30 minutes four or five times a week—had the lowest risk of developing heart failure, and those who didn’t exercise at all had the highest risk. But there was also a surprising finding: Even though all the participants were already middle-aged or older when the study started, those who increased their exercise level from “poor” (meaning, nothing!) to the recommended level over the six years of tracking were still able to reduce their heart failure risk considerably:

  • People who consistently exercised from the start of the study had a 31% lower-than-average incidence of heart failure.
  • People who hadn’t been exercising at all at the start of the study but who increased their exercise level to “recommended” had a 23% lower-than-average incidence of heart failure.

The key is consistency. To get these results, exercise can’t be a “one-and-done” walk each week. Its effects are cumulative. You need to work out almost daily and, just as important, over time. That was demonstrated by the rise in heart failure risk among people who were active at the start of the study and then let their good habit lapse.

Here’s something disheartening (no pun intended): Regardless of how much people know about the huge benefits of exercise, the study confirmed that too few people take advantage of it. Just 25% of all the participants consistently got the recommended amount of exercise over the initial six-year period.

 We’re not saying it’s OK to put off getting active until middle age or that you don’t need to worry about heart failure until then—you’ll reap many different benefits from exercise as soon as you start doing it.

The takeaway is that it’s never to late to get started…and that it’s never a good idea to stop. Get going now, and there’s a better chance that your heart will be going strong for decades to come.

To learn more about exercise intensity, check out “The Smarter Way to Exercise.” If you haven’t been exercising, check in with your doctor to make sure that the type and level of exercise you choose are safe for you.