Study: Physical activity fights heart disease better than weight loss

The research is abundantly clear that physical activity is good for your heart. It lowers your blood pressure and reduces your risk for heart disease and stroke.  

What was previously less clear, however, was the role physical activity plays in the relationship between body mass index (BMI) and heart disease. In other words, can physical activity reduce an overweight or obese person’s risk of heart disease, even if it doesn’t lead to weight loss?

THE ANSWER

To find an answer to this question, a group of Dutch researchers conducted a study with over 5,000 individuals between the ages of 55 and 97. Over a 15-year period, information on participants’ BMI, activity levels, alcohol use, smoking, education level, diet, and family history of heart disease was collected.

What’s interesting is when researchers compared the effect of body weight and physical activity combined, they found that individuals who were overweight or obese who engaged in high levels of physical activity were not at an increased risk for heart disease compared to normal weight people who were similarly active. In other words, being active is what mattered most to reducing heart disease risk.

Overall, the findings from this study suggest that being active, rather than being the “right” weight, protects adults from heart disease. It’s important to note, however, that individuals who were overweight or obese and who were not physically active were still at a heightened risk for heart disease.

For doctors, this study confirms that prescribing exercise is an essential part of heart disease prevention. Recommending patients, who are overweight or obese, lose weight can of course still be beneficial, but getting active is more important.