Women: Slash Your Heart Disease Risk with Occasional Exercise
The American Heart Association wants middle-aged women to know that being physically active just a few times a week can produce significant health benefits, including lower risks of heart disease, stroke, and inappropriate blood clots (thromboembolism). While even more exercise is certainly okay, surprisingly, a new report in the American Heart Association journal, Circulation, says exercise above and beyond those few times each week does not confer additional benefits in terms of disease protection.
That’s not to say you should work out less often if you’re accustomed to daily exercise. Exercise is still good for burning calories, toning muscles, and strengthening bones, among other benefits. Rather, the point of the report is that women who can’t or won’t make time for physical activity beyond a few times weekly can rest assured that their efforts are definitely worthwhile.
“Inactive middle-aged women should try to do some activity regularly," said Miranda Armstrong, M.Phil., Ph.D, the study's lead author and a physical activity epidemiologist at the University of Oxford, in the United Kingdom. "However, to prevent heart disease, stroke and blood clots, our results suggest that women don't need to do very frequent activity, as this seems to provide little additional benefit above that from moderately frequent activity.”
To be clear, the women in the study who engaged in “strenuous” physical activity just two to three times per week enjoyed a 20% reduction in the risk of heart disease, compared to similarly aged women who did not exercise. “Strenuous” was defined as activity that caused sweating and/or an elevated heart rate. The average age of women at the time they joined the study was 57.
The bottom line here is this: You don’t have to work out every day to prevent heart disease. Just two to three times weekly does the trick. Feel free to exercise more often, but you should understand that additional exercise time will not mean significant additional reductions in cardiovascular disease risk.
Miranda E.G. Armstrong, Jane Green, Gillian K. Reeves, Valerie Beral, and Benjamin J. Cairns. Frequent Physical Activity May not Reduce Vascular Disease Risk as Much as Moderate Activity: Large Prospective Study of UK Women. Circulation, February 2015 DOI: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.114.010296