We got it. As a culture, we’re constantly barraged with the message that regular exercise improves our heart health. But for so many of us, despite having long had this message drilled into our heads, getting to the gym for a sweat session is still tough to squeeze into our over-scheduled lives. The good news? Protecting our hearts through activity need not be so grueling, finds new research. Instead, it can easily be woven into our daily living.
In fact, middle-age men and women who regularly take part in so-called leisure activities, which can range from gardening to home-improvement projects, for more than 10 years, can improve their heart health, according to a new study in Circulation, an American Heart Association journal.
Researchers tracked how often 4,200 men and women, age 49, on average, participated in activities such as cycling, brisk walking, gardening, DIY projects and housework. They also measured two markers of inflammation in the body, C-reactive protein and/or interlukin-6, at the beginning of the study and some 11 years later.
What they found was that study participants who regularly participated in leisure activities such as those mentioned above for at least 2.5 hours per week not only had lower levels of the inflammatory markers at the start of the study but they were also able to sustain these healthful levels over roughly 10 years’ time compared to participants who were rarely physically active.
What’s more, participants who during the course of the study shifted from being sedentary to being regularly active in leisure activities were able to lower harmful inflammatory markers as the study progressed.
“Inflammatory markers are important because we have shown they are a key mechanism explaining the link between physical activity and the lower risk of heart disease,” said Mark Hamer, Ph.D., lead study author and associate professor of epidemiology and public health at London’s University College, in a statement. “The people who benefited the most from this study were the ones that remained physically active.”
Heart-healthy recommendation to aim for: Get at least 2.5 hours per week of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity. Strive to make the task more interesting by scheduling time to do a variety of your favorite heart-health-promoting leisure activities among those listed above.