After analyzing the exercise habits of almost 400,000 people from 12 studies, the researchers discovered that those who followed the recommended guideline of working out for 30 minutes a day only lowered their risk for heart failure by 10 percent—what they described as just a “modest” reduction.
But people who worked out for an hour cut their odds almost 20 percent.
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And those who found the time to sweat it out for two hours a day? They slashed their risk by 35 percent.
That’s fantastic—if you have two hours a day to work out. But in reality, it’s hard enough to find the time to exercise each day, let alone for multiple hours in a row.
So here’s what you can do instead: Make your short workouts harder.
While the researchers didn’t specifically look at intensity in the study, they believe performing 30 minutes of intervals—like sprints—can be more effective in protecting against heart failure than doing a moderate workout—like a jog—for the same amount of time, says lead study author Ambarish Pandey, M.D., a cardiology fellow at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School.
Here’s why: Interval training—workouts that alternate between high-intensity effort and lower-intensity effort—causes your heart rate to stay up for short bouts of time and then go back down over and over again.
This “up-and-down” format is what ultimately strengthens your heart. That’s because it forces the muscle to work harder than if it had to consistently maintain the same steady beats per minute.
And at the end of the day, a strong heart is one of the most important factors in decreasing your risk of heart failure—which occurs when the muscle gets too weak to pump enough blood through your body, says Men’s Health cardiology advisor Prediman Krishan Shah, M.D.
What counts as “high intensity?” When rating your perception of how hard you’re working on a scale of 1 to 10, a high-intensity movement generally clocks in at a 7 or higher, says Men’s Health fitness director BJ Gaddour, C.S.C.S.
You should be working as hard or as fast as you possibly can.
Another way to measure it: Your heart rate should hit 160 beats per minute or higher at the end of each work interval, Gaddour says.
You don’t need to crank up the intensity every single workout, though. Adding small amounts of moderate exercise throughout the day—like taking extra walks after lunch and dinner—will increase your training time and decrease your risk of heart failure.
And if you can only swing 30 minutes of moderate exercise?
Don’t think if you can’t do two hours or go all-out during your training, you shouldn’t bother, Dr. Pandey says. “The benefits of exercise are dose dependent, so anything is better than nothing”
While this particularly study only focused on heart failure risk, other evidence shows that moderate exercise is great for preventing coronary artery disease (CAD)—the most common type of heart disease that occurs when a blocked artery leads to a heart attack, and can commonly lead to heart failure—by lowering major risk factors like high blood pressure, obesity, and high cholesterol, explains Dr. Shah