Even Gentle Exercise May Reduce Heart Risks in Women

Imagine you have been told by your doctor that you need two and a half to 5 hours of vigorous exercise a week to protect your heart from cardiovascular disease. You might try it out, find that you love it and make a schedule that allows you to exercise as much as possible. Or, you could try to fit in the exercise and find that you don’t enjoy it or can’t make enough time in your day. Or, you might instantly shrug it off as an arduous task you don’t have time for in your schedule.

The good news is, if you are an older woman and fit into the second or third groups, you aren’t doomed! Univ. of California San Diego research has found that any physical activity — such as doing chores and getting dressed — can significantly lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. While we traditionally think of exercise as getting us sweaty and out of breath, the researchers found that movement throughout the day impacted heart health.

Getting the mail, taking out the trash and gardening can add up to a significant result. The researchers found that “women who do lots of light physical activities throughout their day have up to a 42 percent lower risk of early death from heart disease compared to those who are mostly sedentary.” Additionally, they saw a 22 percent reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease events — such as heart attacks.

However, it must be noted that the participants who benefited the most were active for five to 10 hours a day. While it is gentle, that’s still a lot of time to be moving. For avid gardeners who cook and perform housekeeping chores, that might not be hard to achieve. Five to 10 hours a day means moving for a good portion of one’s waking hours but — with hobbies and routine daily tasks — it’s a much more reasonable goal than two to five strenuous hours a week. The study looked at women between the ages of 63 and 97.

"For older women, any and all movement counts towards better cardiovascular health," said Dr. David Goff, Director of the Division of Cardiovascular Sciences at NHLBI, which funded the research.

The study looked at 5,681 women with different health backgrounds. Andrea LaCroix, who led the study at UCSD said, "The risk reduction showed regardless of the women's overall health status, functional ability or even age. In other words, the association with light physical activity was apparent regardless of other factors."

Maybe this study can how we think about exercise and help more of us, get up and get moving. Getting a chore done or accomplishing something in the garden can be a lot more rewarding than going to the gym! 

March 21, 2019

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