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Experts say even low level exercises done at different times during the day can benefit your heart health. Attila Csaszar/Getty Images
  • Researchers say any exercise, no matter how vigorous or for how long, benefits your heart health.
  • Experts recommend people get between 150 to 300 minutes of physical activity per week.
  • They say exercising can be done in one long segment or broken up into several sections throughout the day.

There’s good news for those who have made a New Year’s resolution to be more active.

Researchers say any amount of exercise is beneficial for cardiovascular health.

A study published Jan. 12 led by the University of Oxford said that there’s no upper threshold to the benefits of exercise in reducing risk of cardiovascular disease.

Researchers added that both moderate and vigorous physical activity resulted in a health benefit.

In a study of more than 90,000 people, researchers found that not only is physical activity associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, but also those who are active at the highest levels achieve the greatest benefit to heart health.

“The results of this study enhance confidence that physical activity is likely to be an important way of preventing cardiovascular disease,” Terry Dwyer, lead author of the study and a researcher at the University of Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Women’s and Reproductive Health, said in a press release.

“The potential risk reduction estimated in those engaging in relatively high levels of activity is substantial and justifies a greater emphasis on measures to increase levels of physical activity in the community,” he said.

Until now, it’s been challenging for researchers to quantify the protective benefits of exercise as many studies in the past relied on questionnaires, which can produce unreliable results.

In the Oxford study, 90,211 participants were given accelerometers (devices worn on the wrist that record physical activity). Their activity was recorded during 1-week periods from 2013 to 2015.

As well as measuring the total amount of physical activity, the accelerometers also measured the amount of moderate intensity and vigorous intensity physical activity.

In a 5-year follow-up, participants were studied to determine hospital admission or death from cardiovascular disease.

The researchers found there was an association between the amount of total physical activity, as well as moderate and vigorous physical activity, and a reduction in incidence of cardiovascular disease.

The protective benefit of exercise was found to be greater than that seen in previous studies that used questionnaires.

Those who were the most active among the participants were found to have a reduction in cardiovascular disease risk between 48 and 57 percent.

Those who were in the top 25 percent of moderate intensity activity experienced a reduction in cardiovascular disease risk between 49 and 59 percent.

The lowest risk for cardiovascular disease was seen in those in the top quarter of vigorous intensity physical activity. They saw a reduction in risk between 54 and 63 percent.

Those who exercised more were also more likely to not smoke, have moderate alcohol intake, and have a healthy BMI. Even after factoring this in, an association between exercise and a reduction in cardiovascular disease risk was still seen.

The benefits of exercise had no threshold effect. That is, any amount of exercise contributed to cardiovascular benefit.

Walt Thompson, PhD, the former president of the American College of Sports Medicine, said the findings aren’t surprising.

“We have known for years, if not decades, that regular physical activity has many benefits on heart health, muscle and bone health, mental illness, and certain cancers,” he told Healthline.

“That body of scientific proof increases exponentially every year. The problem is not understanding if physical activity is good for your health but finding ways to make chronic physical activity a part of everyone’s day,” he said.

The World Health Organization (WHO) as well as the American Heart Association (AHA) recommend that adults should engage in 150 to 300 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity every week.

Alternatively, you can engage in 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous intensity aerobic activity, or a combination of both moderate and vigorous activity.

According to AHA, just 1 in 5 adults exercise enough.

“One hundred fifty to 300 minutes seems daunting to include in our already very busy lives. However, when you break it down to a daily contribution (over a 7-day week), it is only 20 to 40 minutes a day. Even that can be broken up daily to two 10-minute to 20-minute bouts of exercise,” Thompson said.

“I have recently adopted the advice of the exercise ‘snack,'” he said. “Television commercials are often 3 to 4 minutes. Why not get up and do something like walk in place, or walk around the house, or up and down stairs, or even some push-ups and sit-ups during the television commercial. During your favorite 1-hour television show, you can get almost all your time in for your daily dose of exercise.”

Dr. David Maron is director of preventive cardiology at Stanford Health Care in California. He said the best form of exercise is one that a person is going to stick with.

“The best form of exercise for any given individual is one that she or he will do regularly. For most people, walking is the most available,” Maron told Healthline. “Some studies suggest that racket sports, swimming, and aerobics are associated with the largest reductions in the risk of cardiovascular death.”

He added that “physical activity reduces the chances of having cardiovascular disease and dying from cardiovascular disease.”

“The benefits of exercise on cardiovascular health are numerous, and include better blood pressure, blood sugar, body weight, triglycerides, and sleep,” Maron said.

In January, many people make goals around health and exercise.

Dr. Parveen K. Garg, a cardiologist with Keck Medicine of the University of Southern California, said the Oxford study is a timely reminder that any physical activity is better than no activity at all.

“This study showed… it didn’t matter if you did moderate intensity aerobic exercise or vigorous intensity aerobic exercise. There still was a benefit,” Garg told Healthline.

“A lot of people aren’t able to do vigorous intensity physical exercise, and that’s OK because if you just do moderate intensive aerobic exercise for a longer time you’re still going to get a very significant benefit in terms of your cardiovascular health,” he said.

“Engaging in aerobic exercise is the most important thing, so whether you engage in moderate intensity aerobic exercise or vigorous intensity aerobic exercise, that’s not as important as just taking that step and participating in aerobic exercise in the first place,” Garg added.