Exercise may cancel out the heart risks of being overweight or obese if you’re middle-age, a new observational study in the Netherlands suggests.
The research, published Wednesday in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, found that normal-weight, overweight or obese people with a high level of physical activity saw a decreased risk of heart disease. However, those who were overweight or obese but did not exercise had a 1.33 and 1.35 increased risk, respectively.
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Researchers in the Netherlands analyzed more than 5,000 people ages 55 and older who did not have heart disease, and recorded their body mass index (BMI), physical activity level, diet, education, family history of heart disease, alcohol use and smoking at baseline.
They categorized participants by BMI, dividing them into groups of normal weight, overweight and obese, and then monitored their instances of heart disease and exercise levels for the next 15 years.
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Regardless of BMI category, any level of exercise was linked with a reduced risk of heart disease, the study found. Researchers did not observe an association between BMI as a single factor and heart disease.
Researchers wrote that having excess weight accelerates atherosclerosis, which can lead to heart disease, but exercise appears to reverse that effect by lowering plaque and reducing oxygen demand on the heart.
“People who engage in high levels of physical activity are protected from the harmful effects of adipose tissue on cardiovascular disease,” Dr. Klodian Dhana, then a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Epidemiology, Erasmus University Medical Centre, Rotterdam, the Netherlands, said in a news release. “This may be why we found that the beneficial impact of physical activity on cardiovascular disease outweighs the negative impact of BMI.”
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If that’s not enough to encourage you to encourage you to start moving, research shows exercise also can reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes and cancer, as well as improve your mood, among other benefits.
For optimal health, aim for 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week, according to the American Heart Association.