"This relationship between exercise and protection against heart injury was quite dramatic," he added. "We were surprised at the extent of the association. And we also found that the benefit really starts right away."
The new findings were published in the Nov. 14 online issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
The authors tracked cTnT and NT-proBNP levels for two to three years among a group of more than 2,900 American adults aged 65 and older, drawn from a larger study on cardiovascular health.
Study participants were asked to report on their routine physical activity patterns. The probability that levels of either cTnT or NT-proBNP would rise over the study period was found to go down as exercise went up.
What's more, the research team found that the higher an individual's activity score, the lower their long-term risk for heart failure.
The authors concluded that moderate physical activity does indeed appear to lower the risk for experiencing both cardiac injury and, ultimately, heart failure.
Commenting on the study findings, Mona Fiuzat, an assistant professor in medicine in the departments of medicine and medicine-clinical pharmacology at Duke University, said the study "suggests that exercise may have an important effect on the molecular level to keep the heart healthy." Fiuzat was not involved with the study.
"The clinically important question these authors were trying to answer was whether moderate levels of physical activity can protect elderly people from developing heart failure, which is one of the most common causes of death," Fiuzat said. "And what they found when they followed up on patients two to three years after the study started was that not only did participants with higher levels of physical activity have less of an increase in these [biomarker] proteins, but they had a far lower risk of developing heart failure,"
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