Perth researchers have found that people who exercise can markedly reduce their chances of dying from heart disease, even if they have high blood pressure or a pot belly.
Their study, which tracked more than 8600 men and women over 15 years, shows recreational physical activity has significant cardiovascular benefits, regardless of other lifestyle factors such as abdominal obesity and high cholesterol.
Experts said yesterday it added weight to the argument that dieting alone was not enough to ward off heart problems, and even slim people were at risk if they spent too much time on the couch, while overweight people had a lot to gain from exercising.
Curtin University and Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital researchers found that even allowing for other factors, people who exercised at the high end, including activities that made them breathe hard or pant, had a 65 per cent less chance of dying from cardiovascular disease than those with low levels of physical activity.
Those who exercised moderately reduced their risk 15 per cent compared with more sedentary people.
Professor Satvinder Dhaliwal from Curtin's school of public health and SCGH endocrinologist Professor Tim Welborn previously linked obesity to a person's risk of heart disease, regardless of other factors.
But in their latest study published in the medical journal PLOS One, they singled out physical activity, finding it had an independent effect - and the greater the range and intensity of the exercise, the more the benefit.
"This shows that irrespective of whatever other things like blood pressure account for, physical activity has its own significant effect," Professor Dhaliwal said.
Heart Foundation director of cardiovascular health Trevor Shilton said the study showed physical activity had "striking" heart benefits.
"And it's important to note it looked only at recreational physical activity, not walking and cycling for transport or incidental activity," he said.
Mr Shilton said the findings supported the foundation's call for a stronger public health focus, including compulsory physical education for all school children.