If You Don't Work Out This Much, Your Heart May Be at Risk, New Study Says

Research shows that getting in this much exercise early in life can be key for your health.

It's no secret that staying active is absolutely crucial in order to keep yourself healthy, especially as you get older. However, recent research has shown that we may be underestimating just how much exercise we need to set ourselves up for success later in life. That's because according to a new study led by the University of California, San Francisco's (UCSF) Benioff Children's Hospitals, you may need to work out more hours each week than previously thought to keep your heart healthy as you age. Read on to see how much exercise you need to avoid heart problems, and for more signs your heart health may be at risk, beware that If This Wakes You Up at Night, Your Heart May Be in Danger, Experts Warn.

Working out five hours per week can help cut the risk of hypertension later in life.

sweaty man wipes brow after exercise

The study, which was recently published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, followed the health habits and conditions of more than 5,000 adults between the ages of 18 and 30 over a period of 30 years. The researchers checked in on the participants' exercise habits, alcohol use, tobacco use, and medical history via regular questionnaires, while their blood pressure, weight, and cholesterol levels were also monitored over the same period.

Results showed that the 17.9 percent of participants who clocked more than five hours of exercise per week in their 20s and 30s were 18 percent less likely to develop high blood pressure (hypertension) as they aged, which can lead to heart attack or strokes. "Results from randomized controlled trials and observational studies have shown that exercise lowers blood pressure, suggesting that it may be important to focus on exercise as a way to lower blood pressure in all adults as they approach middle age," Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, MD, PhD, the study's senior author from the UCSF Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, said in a statement.

And for more ways to measure your heart health, know that If You Can't Do This in 90 Seconds, Your Heart Is in Danger, Study Says.

Maintaining a rigorous exercise regimen through your adult years can have huge health benefits.

Older couple exercising lifting weights

Though getting an early start on good exercise habits helped promote better health later on, keeping up with the workouts proved even more beneficial. Results also showed that the 12 percent of participants who continued to work out for five hours per week through the age of 60 were even less likely to develop hypertension, which researchers say is a solid argument for sticking to exercise routines set early in life.

"Teenagers and those in their early 20s may be physically active, but these patterns change with age. Our study suggests that maintaining physical activity during young adulthood—at higher levels than previously recommended—may be particularly important," Bibbins-Domingo said. And for more on important health indicators, check out If You Can't Do This Many Push-Ups, Your Heart Is at Risk, Study Says.

The current recommendation for weekly exercise is much lower than the study's findings.

Older woman walking and exercising with weights in her hands

The study's findings that five hours of vigorous exercise per week should be the goal is double the current recommendation set forth by the World Health Organization (WHO). The global health agency suggests people do at least 150 minutes of "moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity" each week—which includes brisk walking, gardening, or biking slower than 10 miles per hour—or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity.

And for more on the importance of taking a stroll, check out 25 Amazing Health Benefits of Walking.

Researchers suggest that the recommended weekly workout minimum should be raised.

elderly couple happily exercising

The researchers concluded that their results suggest current outlooks on health should be reconsidered. This could include increasing the recommended amount of physical activity for aging adults and having physicians speak with their patients about their exercise habits the same way they discuss smoking, alcohol consumption, cholesterol levels, and obesity as they get older.

"Nearly half of our participants in young adulthood had suboptimal levels of physical activity, which was significantly associated with the onset of hypertension, indicating that we need to raise the minimum standard for physical activity," Jason Nagata, MD, the study's first author from the UCSF Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine, said in a statement. "This might be especially the case after high school when opportunities for physical activity diminish as young adults transition to college, the workforce, and parenthood, and leisure time is eroded." And for more on how to keep your heart healthy, check out This Supplement Can Cause Cardiac Arrest If You Take Too Much, Doctors Say.

Zachary Mack
Zach is a freelance writer specializing in beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He is based in Manhattan. Read more
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