Among women ages 27 to 44 at the start of the study, researchers found:
- Women with the highest level of leisure time physical activity had a 25 percent lower risk of coronary heart disease.
- Activity didn’t have to be strenuous to be beneficial; moderately intense activities such as brisk walking were associated with a lower heart disease risk.
- The frequency of physical activity didn’t affect the outcome as long as the total weekly time was at least 150 minutes.
- Regardless of their body weight when they began, women reduced their coronary heart disease risk by engaging in physical activity.
“Most women can improve their heart health significantly by incorporating some moderate or vigorous physical activity into their regular routine,” said Andrea Chomistek, lead author of the study and assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the Indiana University School of Public Health-Bloomington. “Physical activity appears to be beneficial across the lifespan, regardless of body weight. It’s important to remember that any amount of activity is better than none.”
Researchers analyzed surveys about the frequency, amount of time, intensity and type of preferred physical activity among more than 97,000 women in the National Institutes of Health-funded Nurses’ Health Study II. In their 20-year follow-up, researchers documented 544 cases of coronary heart disease.
There’s one caveat: The study, published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation, involved mostly white women. So researchers couldn’t assume the same reduced heart disease risk results would apply to men or other races or ethnicities, Chomistek said.