By Sean Zucker –
The heart may want what it wants, as Emily Dickinson noted a while back. But now, more than 150 years after writing this, the formative poet might be surprised to discover that what the heart truly wants—or at least needs—is consistent squats. This is what a new study out of Europe implies anyway. The research essentially connects strong leg muscles with a lower risk of developing heart failure following a heart attack.
The findings may give medical professionals a critical leg up in the battle against heart disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in fact, reports that heart disease remains the leading cause of death among all U.S. demographics, accounting for approximately 700,000 cases in 2021, the most recent year on record. That’s roughly one in five of all American deaths attributed to heart conditions. Perhaps more troubling is that the CDC notes that one person dies every 33 seconds in the United States from cardiovascular disease.
Admittedly, the emerging research doesn’t suggest that lower-body exercises will help prevent heart attacks. However, it does claim that consistent work can limit associated fatalities.
Conducted by the European Society of Cardiology, the study compared the risk of heart failure post-acute myocardial infarction, essentially heart attacks, with lower body strength.
The long-term danger following an attack is acute because the heart can develop myocardial remodeling, which involves the fibrous tissue accumulating and causing an enlargement of the heart. This complication can have lethal consequences for suffers years after an attack, the study’s co-author Dr. Kentaro Kamiya explained to CNN.
“Cardiac remodeling is the main cause of the onset of heart failure after myocardial infarction,” he noted.
The research team identified the beneficial link between leg strength and reduced risk of heart failures and fatalities after examining almost 1,000 patients hospitalized between 2007 and 2020 with acute myocardial infarctions but who never developed heart failure before or during their hospital stints. The patient’s average age was 66 and 81 percent men, which is in line with CDC data that identifies senior males as the most likely victims of heart failure.
The study performed quadricep workouts to determine the lower body strength of participants. This involved each person sitting on a chair and contracting their leg muscles as tight as they could for five seconds. A handheld dynamometer was attached to their ankle to record the maximum output in kilograms. The output was then compared to each individual’s body weight to quantify leg strength. The average output for women was 33 percent of their body fat while it was 52 percent for men.
The team then classified participants with either low or high quadriceps strength. Follow-ups were conducted during the next four and a half years, which discovered that 67 participants developed heart failure. Those with low quadriceps strength with more than twice as likely to experience heart failure as those with stronger leg muscles.
More research is necessary, but Kamiya believes an important wellness link may be established. “Exercise could help to attenuate cardiac remodeling,” he said.
“Our study indicates that quadriceps strength could help to identify patients at a higher risk of developing heart failure after myocardial infarction who could then receive more intense surveillance,” added co-author Kensuke Ueno.