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Study Says Car & Television Up Heart Attack Odds

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NEW YORK (CBS) - Add owning a television and car to the list of potential risk factors for heart attacks.

A new study of 29,000 people from 52 countries found that owning a television and car significantly increased the likelihood a person would suffer a heart attack. Why?

If you’re driving around or watching television, odds are you aren’t exercising.

“Much is already known about the association between physical activity and cardiovascular risk, but what this study adds, among many other things, is a global perspective,” study author Professor Claes Held, an associate professor at Uppsala University Hospital in Sweden, said in a written statement. “The study shows that mild to moderate physical activity at work, and any level of physical activity during leisure time reduces the risk of heart attack, independent of other traditional risk factors in men and women of all ages.”

For the study, published in the Jan. 11 issue of the European Heart Journal, researchers compared the work and leisure habits of more than 10,000 people who suffered heart attacks, with the daily habits of more than 14,000 healthy individuals. Besides surveying the participants on their exercise habits or lack thereof, the researchers asked participants whether they owned a car, motorcycle, radio, television – or land and livestock.

People who owned both a car and television were 27 percent more likely to have a heart attack, compared to people who owned neither. Not surprisingly, people who engaged in light and moderate physical activity at work – like the livestock owners – were between 11 and 22 percent less likely to have a heart attack. During leisure time, light physical activity cut heart attack risk by 13 percent, and moderate to strenuous physical activity reduced risk by 24 percent.

How much physical activity are we talking?

“Not really a great deal – the study shows that even physical activity below international recommendations of 30 minutes a day at least five days per week is protective against heart attacks,” Held told BootsWebMD in the U.K.

“Are potential markers of a sedentary lifestyle, such as owning a car or a TV, associated with increased cardiovascular risk?,” Drs Emeline Van Craenenbroeck and Viviane Conraads from Antwerp University Hospital, Belgium wrote in an accompanying commentary. “The answer…seems to be a heartfelt ‘yes’.” But the doctors conceded in the commentary that translating this evidence into something that will motivate people to be more active is a “Herculean task.”

“We should put a stop to the pandemic of sedentarism,” they wrote. “Staying physically fit throughout life may well be one of the easiest, cheapest, and most effective ways to avoid the coronary care unit.”

More than 27 million Americans have heart disease, according to the CDC, and the disease is the number one cause of death in the U.S., taking more than 616,000 lives each year.

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