Walking and vigorous exercise similarly reduce older women's cardiovascular risk
Walking may be just as effective as vigorous exercise (ie, jogging, aerobics, swimming laps, etc.) for substantially reducing cardiovascular risk in postmenopausal women, according to researchers from the Women's Health Initiative Observational Study. The findings apply to older women regardless of race, age, or body mass index (BMI). Researchers also found that prolonged sitting may increase cardiovascular risk.
"This study extends previous findings to an ethnically diverse population," said lead author JoAnn Manson, MD. "This is important because of the high risk of hypertension, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease in several minority ethnic groups."
Researchers reviewed detailed physical activity questionnaires completed by 73,743 postmenopausal women (age 50 to 79) enrolled in the Women's Health Initiative Observational Study who did not have diagnosed cardiovascular disease or cancer at baseline.
After nearly 6 years of follow-up (mean, 3.2 years), 345 women developed coronary heart disease, and 1,551 women experienced a first cardiovascular event.
Increased physical activity-whether through walking or vigorous exercise-provided similar and substantial reductions in the risk of total cardiovascular events and coronary disease. Greater risk reductions were observed in women who engaged in both walking and vigorous exercise than in those who engaged in only one activity.
Women who either exercised vigorously or walked at least 2.5 hours per week reduced their risk by approximately 30%. Women whose walking pace was 2 miles per hour or faster had a lower relative risk of cardiovascular disease than women who never or rarely walked.
"No pain, no gain is an outdated notion," said Dr. Manson, chief of preventive medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital, and professor of medicine, Harvard Medical School, Boston. "Exercise need not be strenuous or uncomfortable," she said. Telling older women that walking and vigorous exercise provide similar cardioprotective effects may help them get over the hurdle of beginning an exercise program, she said.
In addition, women who were sedentary at least 16 hours per day had a 68% greater risk of cardiovascular disease than women who were sedentary for less than 4 hours per day.
"Physical activity could come close to a magic bullet for good health, despite all the technologic advances in modern medicine," Dr. Manson said.
"The study suggests that women can truly walk away from heart disease," she said.