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Apr 24, 2018

Walking Helps Prevent Heart Failure in Older Women

Study links brisk walking for 40 minutes several times a week to reduced risk of heart failure.

Don’t underestimate the power of walking, based on a recent study that found brisk walking for at least 40 minutes several times a week is associated with nearly 25% lower risk of heart failure in older women.

Presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 67th Annual Scientific Session, this study looked at the effects of walking on risk for heart failure.

Heart failure is a common condition that occurs when the heart can’t pump enough blood to the rest of the body. It affects an estimated 6.5 million Americans and is especially common in older adults.

The recent study included more than 89,000 participants from the Women’s Health Initiative, which explores major diseases impacting postmenopausal women. At the start of the study, women were asked about their physical activity levels, which included questions about their walking frequency, duration and speed. Researchers then followed participants for over a decade, tracking key outcomes like heart failure.

Women were between the ages of 50 and 79 and had no major health issues at the start of the study.

A total of 1,156 women developed heart failure over the course of the study. After analysis, researchers found that the more walking women engaged in, the less likely they were to develop heart failure.

Women who walked at least twice a week or walked for at least 40 minutes at a time had up to 25% lower risk of heart failure than those who walked less frequently or for shorter periods of time. Women walking at an average or fast pace also had up to 38% lower risk of heart failure than women who walked at a slow pace.

When researchers combined all these factors, they estimated that women with the highest levels of walking frequency, speed and duration were 25% less likely to develop heart failure than those with the lowest levels.

Researchers note that these associations existed even after taking into account factors like age, weight, and other types of physical activity.

“We actually looked at women with four different categories of body mass index (BMI) and found the same inverse relationship between walking behavior and the risk of heart failure,” said Somwail Rasla, MD, a cardiology fellow at Saint Vincent Hospital, who conducted the study during his residency at Brown University. “The results show that even obese and overweight women can still benefit from walking to decrease their risk of heart failure.”

Authors note that the study does have limitations, since walking was self-reported and only assessed at the start of the study. Still, experts believe findings are encouraging for older women, who may want to improve their health but are hesitant to begin a new exercise routine.

“We already know that physical activity lowers the risk of heart failure, but there may be a misconception that simply walking isn’t enough,” Rasla said. “Our analysis shows walking is not only an accessible form of exercise but almost equal to all different types of exercise that have been studied before in terms of lowering heart failure risk.”

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is heart failure?

  • Heart failure occurs when the heart is unable to pump enough blood to the rest of the body. Although there is no cure for heart failure, treatments such as ACE inhibitors and ARBs can help improve outcomes as well as quality of life.
  • How much exercise do I need?
  • Regular physical activity is important for both children and adults. According to the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans:

    • Children and adolescents should get 60 minutes or more of physical activity daily.
    • Optimum exercise levels for adults includes:
      • 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise (or a combination of the two) each week.
      • Activity spread across the week with periods of aerobic exercise of at least 10 minutes at a time.
      • Muscle strengthening activities 2 or more days a week.

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Infographic: Heart Failure

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