Walking for 40 minutes at least 2 to 3 times per week can reduce a woman’s risk of heart failure after menopause, according to a study being presented at the upcoming meeting of the American College of Cardiology (ACC) in Orlando, Florida.
The study looked at how walking—how often, how quickly, and how long during each outing—affected a woman’s heart failure risk over a 10-year period. Researchers led by Somwail Rasla, MD, a cardiology fellow at Saint Vincent Hospital, evaluated data on walking behavior and health outcomes from 89,000 women between the ages of 50 and 79 years who were enrolled in the Women’s Health Initiative. Rasla completed the study during his residency at Brown University.
“We already know that physical activity lowers the risk of heart failure, but there may be a misconception that simply walking isn’t enough,” Rasla said in a statement. “Our analysis shows that 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.”
Heart failure, which occurs when the heart is too weak to adequately pump blood through the body, becomes more common with age. The condition, which Rasla called a “global epidemic,” affects 6.5 million US adults and is a leading cause of hospitalization, with total medical costs
exceeding $30.7 billion a year.
Patients with heart failure have received increased attention
in efforts to reduce readmissions under value-based reimbursement programs in Medicare. Many patients with heart failure have other health problems, including diabetes, obesity, or hypertension.
For women, the risk of heart failure rises after menopause and escalates even more after age 65; according to data from ACC, women aged 75 to 84 years are 3 times more likely to have heart failure than those aged 65 to 74.
Using data from patient questionnaires, the study team categorized walking behavior by frequency, duration, and pace; these 3 variables were combined in a calculation called a Metabolic Equivalent of Task, or MET. The top third of participants for MET per week were 25% less likely to develop heart failure compared with the third with the lowest MET per week.
Researchers excluded those who already had coronary heart disease or cancer or who were unable to walk a block at the start of the study. Not only did they find that walking had a protective effect against heart failure, but there was also a clear dose–response relationship, even after controlling for body mass index, age, and ethnicity.
In response to a question from The American Journal of Managed Care®
, Rasla said it appears from the data that even if women start do not start walking immediately after menopause, they will still see benefits once they start.
Walking has been frequently recommended as an accessible, low-cost form of exercise—the previous Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, MD, recommended walks of at least 22 minutes several times a week to combat obesity.
Rasla will present the study March 12, 2018, at the 67th ACC Scientific Session, which takes place March 10-12 in Orlando, Florida.