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Circulation. 2003 Mar 4;107(8):1110-6.

Relative intensity of physical activity and risk of coronary heart disease.

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  • 1Department of Epidemiology, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA 02115, USA.



Current recommendations prescribe at least moderate-intensity physical activity, requiring >or=3 METs (metabolic equivalents) for >or=30 minutes almost daily, generating approximately 1000 kcal/wk. Defining intensity using an absolute scale in METs may be limited because it neglects variations in physical fitness: an activity requiring a particular MET value commands greater physical effort among less fit than more fit persons. It is unknown whether moderate-intensity exercise, relative to an individual's capacity, is associated with reduced coronary heart disease (CHD) rates.


We followed 7337 men (mean age, 66 years) from 1988 to 1995. At baseline, men reported their actual activities and, using the Borg Scale, the perceived level of exertion when exercising (relative intensity). During follow-up, 551 men developed CHD. After multivariate adjustment, the relative risks of CHD among men who perceived their exercise exertion as "moderate," "somewhat strong," and "strong" or more intense were 0.86 (95% confidence interval, 0.66 to 1.13), 0.69 (0.51 to 0.94), and 0.72 (0.52 to 1.00), respectively (P(trend)=0.02), compared with "weak" or less intense. This inverse association extended to men not fulfilling current recommendations, ie, expending <1000 kcal/wk in physical activity or not engaging in activities of >or=3 METs (P(trend)=0.03 and 0.007, respectively).


There is an inverse association between relative intensity of physical activity (an individual's perceived level of exertion) and risk of CHD, even among men not satisfying current activity recommendations. Recommendations for "moderate"-intensity physical activity may need to consider individual fitness levels instead of globally prescribing activities of >or=3 METs.

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