Instead, losing excess weight -- or not becoming overweight to begin with -- and exercising may do more to ward off death from heart disease, say Jing Fang, M.D., and colleagues from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, New York.
"The fact is that those who both exercised more and ate more nevertheless had low cardiovascular mortality," says Fang. Expending energy through physical activity may be the key to cutting the risks of heart disease and living a longer, more healthful life, she says.
The study appears in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
The researchers studied data from 9,790 participants in the First National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, a national study from 1971 to 1975 that was funded by the U.S. government. Fang's group compared reports of physical activity, body mass index and dietary caloric intake to deaths from heart disease through 1992.
They grouped participants by their initial reports of caloric intake (low, middle, high), recreation exercise (least, moderate, most) and body mass index (normal, overweight, obese). Body mass index is a measure of weight in relation to height.
Overweight and obese participants, those who consumed fewer calories, and those who exercised less were also likely to be older, black, have a lower family income, less likely to have graduated high school, and more likely to have higher blood pressure and cholesterol levels than those who ate and exercised more.
During 17 years of follow-up, 1,531 participants died of heart disease. After adjusting for BMI and physical activity, caloric intake was unrelated to heart disease. Those who exercised more and ate more were both leaner and had less than half the cardiovascular disease mortality than did those who exe
Contact: Jing Fang, M.D.
Center for the Advancement of Health