Sunday, April 19, 2015

Heavy physical activity may significantly reduce heart disease deaths, especially after age 45


The idea that heavy physical activity is a main trigger of heart attacks is widespread. Often endurance running and cardio-type activities are singled out. Some people refer to this as “death by running”. Others think that strength training has a higher lethal potential. We know based on the Oregon Sudden Unexpected Death Study that this is a myth ().

Here is some evidence that heavy physical activity in fact has a significant protective effect. The graph below shows the number of deaths from coronary heart disease, organized by age group, in longshoremen (dock workers). The shaded bars represent those whose level of activity at work was considered heavy. The unshaded bars represent those whose level of activity at work was considered moderate or light (essentially below the “heavy” level).


The data is based on an old and classic study of 6351 men, aged 35 to 74 years, who were followed either for 22 years, or to death, or to the age of 75. It shows a significant protective effect of heavy activity, especially after age 45 () . The numbers atop the unshaded bars reflect the relative risk of death from coronary heart disease in each age group. For example, in the age group 65-74, the risk among those not in the heavy activity group is 110 percent higher (2.1 times higher) than in the heavy activity group.

It should be noted that this is a cumulative effect, of years of heavy activity. Based on the description of the types of activities performed, and the calories spent, I estimate that the heavy activity group performed the equivalent of a few hours of strength training per week, plus a lot of walking and other light physical activities. The authors of the study concluded that “… repeated bursts of high energy output established a plateau of protection against coronary mortality.

Heavy physical activity may not make you lose much weight, but has the potential to make you live longer.

34 comments:

Charles Grashow said...

http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/122/7/743.full
Physical Activity and Cardiovascular Health
Lessons Learned From Epidemiological Studies Across Age, Gender, and Race/Ethnicity

Anonymous said...

Seems like this would be a hard area to separate cause and effect. I'd be worried that Longshoremen who are less healthy get moved to "low activity" work, and than subsequently die at a higher rate due to their ill health, rather than otherwise healthy people in "low activity" work becoming unhealthy due to that work.

Does the paper discuss how people get work assignments?

Richard said...

Thanks for posting this. Sometimes, it seems to me, people get confused about the various "benefits" of a specific course of action, as if they expect every behavior modification to result in lower cancer rates, or to end to diabetes, etc. This study says what it says, and lowering heart disease deaths is significant. I'm 70 now, and I'm going to continue with my strenuous weight lifting program. As for cause and effect: I wonder if these researchers had never heard of or considered those issues? I'm sure they did.

Nick said...

Hi Ned,

You mention amount of time of exertion per week as a key indicator of health benefit. Did the study indicate that a few hours a week was the 'right' amount? One of the things I'm thinking about is the Super Slow type programs that only take about 30 minutes per week. Is it a function of time or could it be a function of strength, given that one can remain quite strong with a HIT weight routine.

Hope what I just asked made sense.
Nick

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Ned Kock said...

Thanks for the link Charles.

Ned Kock said...

Nick, you may want to take a look at these two posts:

http://healthcorrelator.blogspot.com/2010/08/theory-of-supercompensation-strength.html

http://healthcorrelator.blogspot.com/2012/01/hce-user-experience-anabolic-range-may.html

Ned Kock said...

The link by Charles synthesizes quite a lot of related research. Causality is always an issue, which is why prospective studies should be complemented with controlled experiments. The latter usually are hard to conduct, and yield smaller samples. Different studies, with different methods (including ethnographic research), provide a more complete picture of the phenomenon.

Ned Kock said...

As for the possible link: (poorer health) > (light activity), the counterargument would be that:

(better education) > (light activity)

(better socioeconomic status) > (better education)

and

(better socioeconomic status) > (better health)

The longshoremen who did heavier activity likely had a worse (or lower) socioeconomic status than the light activity group.

Therefore, heavy activity not only gave them better health, but it did so in spite of the problems stemming from lower socioeconomic status.

Ned Kock said...

The possible chain of causal effects above is one of the things that make this study interesting.

Frank Sit said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

There is also a relationship between IQ and longevity. Longshoremen work is not likely to attract the intelligent, Eric Hoffer notwithstanding. Academics, conversely,live very long, despite having a fairly inactive career.

Ned Kock said...

Spam comment above deleted.

Ned Kock said...

Hi Anon. This argument is similar to the one summarized by the associations below (which make the findings of this study even more interesting).

(better education) > (light activity)

(better socioeconomic status) > (better education)

and

(better socioeconomic status) > (better health)

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Major Depression said...

So, what kind of heavy pysical avtivity we must do?

Lisa Reed said...

But if heavy physical activity is the key to living longer, why do those with highly inactive careers also have a longer life?

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