Sian C. Owen, Medical Writer for Cardio Debate

This past week has seen the publication of even more research adding to the growing body of information detailing the cardioprotective effects of exercise.

A review published in JAMA Cardiology shows how up to three acute exercise sessions every week provides ‘strong cardioprotection’ that was independent of the effects of modest CV risk factor modifications. In a nutshell, just one episode of exercise provides immediate, clinically relevant cardioprotection. [1]

Another paper, published in the same journal, shows results from a population-based prospective cohort study in 10 regions across China that addressed the impact of physical activity on CVD.

Nearly 500,000 people were included, and the impact of occupational and non-occupational forms of physical activity on all major subtypes of CVD were analysed. [2] Unsurprisingly, the most physically active people had the lowest risk of cardiovascular events.

The study’s lead author Dr Zhenming Chen, University of Oxford, UK, tells Medscape Cardiology that there is “clearly positive […] dose-response relationship between levels of total activity and risks of major CVD.” [3] Furthermore, Dr Scott A Lear, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, Canada, added that: “more attention needs to be paid to prescribing physical activity as an effective and low cost intervention with few side effects.” [3]

On the other side of the coin, results from a prospective cohort study that looked at the relationship between body mass index (BMI) and vascular disease in older age (in 12,203 men aged over 65 years) was recently published in the Journal of the American Heart Association. [4]

Here, researchers found that an increase in BMI of 5 kg/m2 was associated with an approximate increased risk of a vascular event of 30 per cent, demonstrating the importance of BMI in old age.

The body of evidence continues to grow, with more empirical data provided details of the cardioprotective benefits of exercise. Whether exercise should be prescribed as treatment has been debated at length – the Academy of Royal Medical Colleges has previously stated that exercise is ‘the miracle cure’. [5] Obstacles include a lack of resources for educating health care professionals, and effectively engaging with patients to encourage them to do more physical exercise.

However, the overall message is clear – encouraging a healthy lifestyle with regular physical exercise will stave off the extra pounds, protect the heart and will ultimately save lives.


  1. Thijssen D.H.J, Redington A, George K.P, et al. Association of exercise preconditioning with immediate cardioprotection: A review. JAMA Cardiol, Published online November 29, 2017.
  2. Bennett D.A, Du H, Clarke R, et al. Association of physical activity with risk of major cardiovascular diseases in Chinese men and women. JAMA Cardiol,
  4. Body Mass Index and vascular disease in men aged 65 years and over: Health in Men Study. JAHA 2017; 6: e007343.