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Leisure Exercise Reduces Heart Disease by 25% for Younger Women

Aug 13, 2016

We have studies that show exercise for older women is very beneficial; new study shows benefits for the young.

Younger women who exercise just 2.5 hours a week may cut their risk for heart disease by up to 25 percent, a new study suggests.

The lead author, Andrea Chomistek of the Indiana University School of Public Health in Bloomington, noted in a comment obtained by Reuters Health: “It is worth emphasizing that it doesn’t matter if the exercise is moderate or vigorous, if you do it 6 days per week or 3, every little bit counts…. Also, exercise lowers risk of heart disease whether you’re normal weight, overweight, or obese.”

Study participants were 97,000 women who participated in the Nurses Health Study and who were 27 to 44 years old in 1991. Researchers assessed participants’ leisure-time physical activity in 1991, 1997, 2001, 2005, and 2009 through questions on average total time per week spent on various activities over the previous year.

Women reporting 15 or more METs of moderate-intensity physical activity a week had a 33% lower risk of CHD compared with women reporting no physical activity (HR 0.67, P=0.01). Women reporting 15 or more METs of vigorous activity a week had a 23% lower risk of CHD.  When they repeated the analysis at 2 and 4 years lag, they found that the total leisure-time activity and moderate-activity results were no longer statistically significant, but the vigorous-activity results remained significant.

They also found that aerobics, outdoor work, and brisk walking were each significantly associated with lower risk of CHD (P=0.04, 0.04, and 0.001, respectively). Brisk walking for 2.5 or more hours per week resulted in a 35% risk reduction for CHD compared with women who reported no walking.

Though apparent benefits were seen even in overweight and obese women, researchers found the greatest benefit among normal-weight women. Those who were active for 2.5 hours a week had half the heart disease risk of obese, inactive women.

Also, higher levels of physical activity have been shown to be associated with reduction in rates of heart disease, stroke, cancers, diabetes and many other chronic health conditions.

“It is important for normal-weight, overweight and obese women to be physically active,” Chomistek told HealthDay News. “For people who are currently inactive and find joining a gym intimidating, emphasizing the benefits of walking may help them get active.”

Researchers found women who had the highest amounts of physical activity — 150 minutes a week or more — had the lowest risk for heart disease, 25 percent lower than those who exercised least. The exercise didn’t have to be strenuous; moderate exercise such as walking was effective as well.

Limitations of the study were that participants were mostly white, and findings may not apply across ethnic groups. Also, data in the study was self-reported and may not always be accurate.

Additionally, while the study shows an association between exercise and reduction in heart disease risk, the study did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

Practice Pearls

  • Women who were the most physically active during their leisure time had the lowest risk for heart disease.
  • Women who exercise just 2.5 hours a week may cut their risk for heart disease by up to 25 percent.
  • Further research is needed to see whether these conclusions apply to women of other ethnicities, and to men.



Chomistek AK, Henschel G, Eliassen AH, et al. Frequency, type, and volume of leisure-time physical activity and risk of coronary heart disease in young women. Circulation 2016; 134:290-299. Abstract

Michos ED, Blaha MJ. Encouraging young women to move more. Circulation 2016; 134:300-303. Editorial

Sidney S, Quesenberry CP Jr, Jaffe MG, et al. Recent trends in cardiovascular mortality in the United States and public health goals. JAMA Cardiol 2016; DOI:10.1001/jamacardio.2016.1326. Abstract