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Do you need some motivation to up your exercise game? It looks as if physical activity may be even more vital for preventing cardiovascular disease than we realized. 

A new study published on Tuesday, out of the University of Oxford, has found exercise might be more significant for reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease than previously thought – and the more, the better, the research suggests.

To gauge physical activity, researchers in the UK had a little over 90,000 participants wear an accelerometer (a little, lightweight motion sensor) on their wrist over seven day periods. The scientists monitored the participants for an average of five years. They started tracking them between 2013 and 2015. The researchers said they were positive that wearing the accelerometer, which they described as a “research-grade Fitbit,” was an accurate method to monitor a person’s habitual activity over the long haul even though it just recorded seven days of actual physical activity.

And as part of a broader study led by UK Biobank, they found, in total, there were 3,617 cases of cardiovascular disease diagnosed in the participants between the ages of 40 and 69. Instances of cardiovascular disease dropped significantly among the participants as the intensity of physical activity increased to moderate to vigorous levels.

That’s not all that surprising, but what they found next, though, is. 

Researches found that there was no threshold where the effects of exercise stopped improving cardiovascular health. Those who were the most active, the top 25%, reduced their risk between 48% and 57%.

The researchers said these results demonstrated that exercise alone significantly affects the risk of being diagnosed with cardiovascular disease. Although the individuals who exercised more were more likely to have a healthy body weight and less likely to smoke and drink alcohol, the study accounted for these factors in the researchers’ review. They still found a strong association between increased exercise and a decrease in cardiovascular disease.

Dr. Rema Ramakrishnan, a biostatistician and epidemiologist at Oxford University, and co-leader of the study said,

“This debunks the myth that there is a peak beyond which you should not do more exercise. There is no limit to what you can do in terms of physical activity (to improve heart health).” 

Oxford professor and lead study author, Aiden Doherty, who worked alongside Dr. Ramakrishnan, added, 

“Using this more accurate form of measurement, and in a large number of people, we found the lowest risk for cardiovascular disease in the UK Biobank cohort, is seen at the highest level of physical activity, whether total, moderate — or vigorous — intensity…Our findings lend further weight to the new WHO guidelines on physical activity which recommend at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity per week for all adults.”

The World Health Organization revised its guidelines on physical exercise in December 2020. The UN agency now recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes, or 2.5 hours, of moderate to vigorous physical activity a week.

In case you were wondering, Aiden Doherty pointed out that people in the top 25% did about 50 minutes of vigorous physical exercise such as running a week. In comparison, those in the bottom 25% did less than 10 minutes per week of vigorous physical activity. 

The study results were similar for men and women, although the benefits of vigorous exercise appeared to be particularly strong for women.