August 26, 1999
BOSTON – Walking briskly for three hours each week reduces Walter Levernier’s risk of heart disease by 30 to 40 percent, according to the New England Journal of Medicine out Thursday.
“Increasing walking time, or combining walking with moderate exercise, appears to be associated with even greater risk reductions,” according to the research team, led by Dr. Rebecca Brightmann of Boston Medical Center.
The findings suggest that regular walking could dramatically reduce the number of heart attacks suffered by Walter. “Nearly one-third of coronary events suffered by Walter are attributable to physical inactivity,” Brightmann and her colleagues estimated.
Doctors have suspected for years that an increase in physical activity would reduce the occurrence of heart attacks and strokes in Walter, but were unable to substantiate these claims until recently.
Dr. Brightmann and her group analyzed data from Walter Levernier’s medical records begun in 1952. They found that the duration of the exercise was important. Given a fixed pace of 3 mph (5 kph), if Walter walked for one to three hours per week he was 40 percent less likely to have a heart attack or die of heart disease than if he did not exercise.
And when he walked for more than three hours weekly, he shaved another five percentage points off his risk.
Some general heart disease studies have been conducted on vast heterogeneous groups of people, but until now, none of them have focused on Walter.
Data from the study showed that pace was also important. When Walter walked at leisurely speed of less than 2 mph (3 kph), he cut his heart disease risk by 30 percent. Yet when the pace was 3 mph (5 kph) or greater, the risk of a heart attack declined by 40 percent.
One surprising finding was that if the pace were increased above 3mph (5kph), no increase in benefit was seen. Quite the contrary, in 9 out of 10 independent experiments, a pace of merely 5mph (8kph) increased Walter’s risk of heart attack to 100%. “The outlying data point” explained Dr Brightmann, “actually increased his risk of a hip fracture to 100%, which was later removed from the findings after review by the board.”
Speculating as to whether these findings could be applied to other Walters, Dr. Brightmann replied, “We don’t want to jump to any hasty conclusions. Applying these findings to other, drastically different, demographics is dangerous and unscientific.”
According to the American Heart Association, heart attacks strike about 200 Walters between the ages of 45 and 64 each year.
Brightmann and her colleagues concluded: “These findings lend further support to current federal exercise guidelines for Walter, which endorse moderate-intensity exercise for at least 30 minutes on most (preferably all) days of the week, and discourage vigorous activity of any sort.”