203. Guidelines: 2021 ESC Cardiovascular Prevention – Question #9 with Dr. Noreen Nazir

The following question refers to Section 4.3 of the 2021 ESC CV Prevention Guidelines. The question is asked by Dr. Maryam Barkhordarian, answered first by pharmacy resident Dr. Anushka Tandon, and then by expert faculty Dr. Noreen Nazir.

Dr. Noreen Nazir is Assistant Professor of Clinical Medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she is the director of cardiac MRI and the preventive cardiology program.

The CardioNerds Decipher The Guidelines Series for the 2021 ESC CV Prevention Guidelines represents a collaboration with the ACC Prevention of CVD Section, the National Lipid Association, and Preventive Cardiovascular Nurses Association.

Mr. A is a 28-year-old man who works as an accountant in what he describes as a “desk job” setting. He shares that life got “a little off-track” for him in 2020 between the COVID-19 pandemic and a knee injury. His 2022 New Years’ resolution is to improve his overall cardiovascular and physical health. He has hypertension and a family history of premature ASCVD in his father, who died of a heart attack at age 50. Prior to his knee injury, he went to the gym 3 days a week for 1 hour at a time, split between running on the treadmill and weightlifting. He has not returned to the gym since his injury and has been largely sedentary, although he is trying to incorporate a 20-minute daily walk into his routine. Which of the following exercise-related recommendations is most appropriate?

A. A target of 75-150 minutes of vigorous-intensity or 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical exercise weekly is recommended to reduce all-cause mortality, CV mortality, and morbidity.
B. Bouts of exercise less than 30 minutes are not associated with favorable health outcomes.
C. Exercise efforts should be focused on aerobic activity, since only this type of activity is associated with mortality and morbidity benefits.
D. Light-intensity aerobic activity like walking is expected to have limited health benefits for persons with predominantly sedentary behavior at baseline.

The correct answer is A.

There is an inverse relationship between moderate-to-vigorous physical activity and CV morbidity/mortality, all-cause mortality, and incidence of type 2 diabetes, with additional benefits accrued for exercise beyond the minimum suggested levels. The recommendation to “strive for at least 150-300 min/week of moderate-intensity, or 75-150 min/week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination thereof” is a Class 1 recommendation per the 2021 ESC guidelines, and a very similar recommendation (at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity or 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity) is also Class 1 recommendation per 2019 ACC/AHA primary prevention guidelines. Both the ESC and ACC/AHA provide examples of activities grouped by absolute intensity (the amount of energy expended per minute of activity), but the ESC guidelines also offer suggestions for measuring the relative intensity of an activity (maximum/peak associated effort) in Table 7, which allows for a more individualized, customizable approach to setting activity goals. Importantly, individuals who are unable to meet minimum weekly activity recommendations should still be encouraged to stay as active as their abilities and health conditions allow to optimize cardiovascular and overall health.

Choice B is incorrect, as data suggests physical activity episodes of any duration, including <10 min, are associated with favorable outcomes like all-cause mortality benefit. The duration of a single exercise bout is less correlated with health benefits than the total physical activity time accumulated per week.

Choice C is incorrect. Per the ESC guidelines, it is a class 1 recommendation to perform resistance exercise, in addition to aerobic activity, on 2 or more days per week to reduce all-cause mortality. Data indicate that the addition of resistance exercise to aerobic activity is associated with lower risks of total CV events and all-cause mortality, so it’s expected that a combination of weightlifting and aerobic activity may be more beneficial for than either type of activity alone. The 2019 ACC/AHA prevention guidelines do not make a formal recommendation regarding resistance exercise; they do note that it has multiple health benefits (e.g., BP-lowering, improved glycemic control) though state its association with ASCVD risk reduction is unclear. 

Choice D is incorrect: sedentary time is independently associated with greater risk for several major chronic diseases and mortality. Reducing sedentary time for inactive adults and adding in light-intensity physical activity (as little as 15 minutes daily) is a class 1 recommendation to reduce all-cause and CV mortality and morbidity. The 2019 ACC/AHA guidelines suggest that reduced sedentary behavior may be “reasonable for ASCVD risk reduction” (Class 2b). Assuming our patient has had predominantly sedentary behavior, starting with a 20-minute daily walk can provide initial health benefits while working up to more and higher-intensity activity.

Main Takeaway

Physical activity should be individually assessed and prescribed in terms of frequency, intensity, time (duration), type, and progression.

Guideline Location

Section 4.3.1, Pages 3268-3269, Table 7

203. Guidelines: 2021 ESC Cardiovascular Prevention – Question #9 with Dr. Noreen Nazir
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