Easy Way to Reduce the Risk of Heart Disease

Women need only include a light to moderate amount of physical activity in their weekly schedules to reduce the risk of developing heart disease. This may sound like old news, but the vast majority of the exercise/heart disease study participants have been men. Though researchers have long known that physically active women have lower rates of heart disease than sedentary women, a new study has answered some lingering questions about the type and intensity of the physical activity, particularly for high-risk women. Its findings were published last month in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Over 39,000 healthy women, aged 45 and older, were followed for five years by I-Min Lee, ScD, and colleagues at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School. Each woman reported the time spent in recreational activities, including walking and stair climbing. The investigators calculated the energy expenditure for these activities and correlated their calculations with the rate of heart disease that developed among the participants. There were 244 heart disease-related "events," including heart attacks and heart surgery, in the five-year followup period.

Vigorous activities were associated with a lower risk of heart disease, but so was walking. Even walking at least one hour a week was associated with a reduced rate of heart disease. This held for high-risk women, that is, those who were overweight, smoked, and/or had high cholesterol. "It is encouraging to observe that vigorous activities were not necessary to lower coronary heart disease rates," wrote the investigators, "...walking need not be fast-paced for benefit; time spent walking was more important than walking pace."

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By Maryann Napoli

Maryann Napoli is the associate director of the Center for Medical Consumers in New York City.

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