Walking could be an effective and accessible way for post-menopausal women to improve their heart health according to new US research, which found that walking for at least 40 minutes several times per week could reduce the risk of heart failure, a condition in which the heart becomes too weak to pump enough blood to meet the body's needs.
Conducted by Somwail Rasla, MD, a cardiology fellow at Saint Vincent Hospital, the large-scale study looked at the effect of walking on the health outcomes of 89,000 post-menopausal women age 50 to 79, following the women for more than 10-year period.
Based on the participants' self-reports, researchers analyzed walking frequency, duration and speed, and combined the results into a calculation known as Metabolic Equivalent of Task (MET). MET measures energy expenditure, for example, one MET is defined as the energy it takes to sit quietly, moderate-intensity activities burn around 3 to 6 METs, and vigorous-intensity activities burn more than 6 METs.
After taking into account various heart disease risk factors, such as smoking status and alcohol consumption, the team found that the women in the highest tertile for MET per week were 25 percent less likely to develop heart failure compared with those in the lowest tertile, suggesting that walking frequency, duration and speed each contribute about equally to the overall benefit of the activity.
The results were also consistent in women of all ages and ethnicities and regardless of a woman's body weight or whether she did any other forms of exercise, suggesting that the findings can be generalized to apply to most post-menopausal women above 50 years old.
"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," Rasla said. "The results show that even obese and overweight women can still benefit from walking to decrease their risk of heart failure."
Because walking is free, and can be done at almost any time with no need for special equipment, the activity could be a simple but effective way for many post-menopausal women to improve their heart health.
"We already know that physical activity lowers the risk of heart failure, but there may be a misconception that simply walking isn't enough," said Rasla. "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."
The study is due to be presented at the American College of Cardiology's 67th Annual Scientific Session taking place Saturday, March 10 to Monday, March 12.