Do you have excess belly fat? It's possible to completely eliminate the risk of cardiovascular diseases
Researchers have good news for those at greatest risk of such diseases.
Cardiovascular diseases are the second most common cause of death in Norway after cancer. If you carry too many kilos on your body, you have a much higher risk of these diseases.
However, the distribution of fat on the body also plays a crucial role.
“We know that it is particularly abdominal fat that increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases,” Ulf Ekelund says. He is a professor at the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences.
He has participated in a large, new, international study. There, researchers were interested in finding out if it is possible to completely remove the risk of cardiovascular diseases for those who have too much of the dangerous fat around their waist.
You have abdominal obesity if you, as a woman, have a waist measurement of over 88 centimetres and over 102 centimetres as a man.
Making a greater effort can be beneficial
The study shows that there is especially one type of activity that is much more effective in reducing illness than what researchers have previously concluded.
Those who engaged in slightly more demanding physical activities for 30 to 35 minutes during the week completely eliminated the risk of illness and mortality from cardiovascular diseases.
These activities include things like easy jogging, or more vigorous swimming and cycling. The intensity should be such that you become sweaty and slightly out of breath.
In contrast, to achieve similar health benefits, individuals needed to engage in up to 500 minutes per week of moderate physical activities, like brisk walking.
Deviates from the recommendations
Ekelund himself participated in creating the latest recommendations for physical activity for the World Health Organization (WHO), which came in 2020.
Then, the recommendation was that adults should engage in moderate physical activity for 150 to 300 minutes a week or 75 to 150 minutes of intense physical activity a week to maintain good health.
“In this new study, we see that we get significantly more in return for vigorous intensity compared to moderate intensity than what the WHO recommendations suggest,” Ekelund says.
A large research project
Researchers used data from the UK Biobank. This is a large and long-term British research project with data from a total of 500,000 people.
Nearly 71,000 people have participated in this study. They were on average around 61.5 years old. All of them wore a wristband during a period of time that measured all their activity throughout the day.
Participants were followed for nearly seven years in order for the researchers to register illnesses they contracted during the period.
Increased risk even for the slim
High blood pressure is the biggest risk factor for developing cardiovascular diseases. If you have high blood pressure, you can effectively lower it through physical activity.
Ulf Ekelund thinks it is important to point out that all physical activity has significance in reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases for everyone.
“In this study, we saw that even those who were slim had an increased risk of these diseases if they moved little during the week,” he says.
Confirmed by other studies
There are also other studies suggesting that if we engage in physical activities with a slightly higher intensity, we don't need as much exercise.
A study from earlier this year shows that just three minutes of activity that slightly raises the heart rate can significantly reduce the risk of early death. It helps to just walk up the stairs quickly instead of taking the elevator or picking up your pace when walking to the store.
The data for this study also came from UK Biobank.
A selected group
Even though there are many participants in the studies from this biobank, it is important to repeat these findings in more studies, Ekelund believes.
Even though more than 500,000 people are part of the UK Biobank, it’s less than ten per cent of all those asked to participate in biobanks. Therefore, it is a selected group that participates, the researcher explains.
“However, as there is a wide variation in physical activity and other lifestyle factors in the study, there is reason to believe that our findings are valid,” he says.
Sanchez-Lastra et.al.: Joint associations of device-measured physical activity and abdominal obesity with incident cardiovascular disease: a prospective cohort study. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 2023.
Translated by Alette Bjordal Gjellesvik