London — Patients with heart disease should focus more on increasing their physical activity level, and not just weight loss, for a long life, researchers suggest.
The findings, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (JACC), showed that heart disease patients can gain weight without jeopardising their health, but sitting in their recliner incurs significant health risks.
"The fact that gaining weight posed no increased risk when patients were already overweight, I think is a bit surprising," said Trine Moholdt from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim, Norway.
The results indicate that weight gain does not seem to increase the risk for already overweight patients, which would mean that it isn't dangerous for a fat heart patient to gain a few pounds. What is dangerous is if the person does not engage in any form of exercise.
People who are physically active live longer than those who are not. Sustained physical activity over time was associated with substantially lower mortality risk.
"It may be that weight is less important for heart patients, but we know that physical activity is very important," Moholdt added.
However, the findings do not mean that it is never a good idea for an overweight heart patient to slim down.
"In our view, desired or intentional weight reduction may be useful for overweight or obese individuals, although little data supports this view in studies of coronary heart disease patients," Moholdt said.
For the study, the team examined 3 307 individuals (1 038 women) with coronary heart disease.
The results showed that the risk of premature death was higher for the group of patients who were completely inactive than for either of the other groups. The prognosis for people who exercise a little bit, even if it is below the recommended level, is better than not exercising at all.
"Even being somewhat active is better than being inactive, but patients have to maintain the activity level. Physical activity is perishable--if you snooze you lose its benefits," Moholdt noted.