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  health > heart > story page AIDSAlternative MedicineCancerDiet & FitnessHeartMenSeniorsWomen

Walking reduces women's heart-attack risk

Women Heart Disease

August 25, 1999
Web posted at: 4:27 PM EDT (2027 GMT)

In this story:

Walking can save thousands

Time to begin walking


By Laura Lane

The study highlights the importance of a program that encourages African-American women to make walking a part of their lifestyle. More of these women die of heart disease than women of any other ethnic background, according to the American Heart Association. In 1996, the most recent year for which statistics are available, 72 percent more African-American women died of heart disease than white women.

The program, called Walking for Wellness, is jointly organized by the heart association and the National Black Women's Health Initiative, an organization designed to abet healthy habits. Every June since 1997, thousands of women and their families have gathered in major cities for a day of walking. Also during the day, health educators teach women the importance of exercise, as well as diet, in preventing heart disease.

(WebMD) -- Keeping heart attacks at bay doesn't have to mean hours of pumping iron and sweating it out on a health-club stair machine, a new study suggests. For women, avoiding heart disease could be as easy as walking for 30 minutes a day.

The study, published in this week's New England Journal of Medicine, is the first large-scale study in women to provide hard evidence that walking can significantly reduce the risk of heart attacks in women and that walking is sufficient to significantly impact that risk, said lead author Dr. JoAnn Manson, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

While results of previous studies have been inconclusive, the current findings definitively show that brisk walking, at least three miles per hour, can reduce a woman's risk of heart attack, Manson said. While women who walked at least three hours per week reduced their risk of heart attack by 30 percent to 40 percent, women who walked five or more hours per week reduced their risk by 50 percent.

The study was conducted by researchers of the Harvard Medical School, the Harvard School of Public Health and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

Walking can save thousands

Heart disease kills more Americans than any other condition, according to the American Heart Association. And the urgency among women is growing: More than 500,000 women die of heart disease annually, with the number of cases increasing every year. Less than 460,000 men die of heart disease every year.

But the new findings may pave the way to preventing one-third of all heart attacks in women, Manson said.

Exercise affects factors known to be involved with heart disease, she said. With exercise, blood pressure and blood sugar decrease. In addition, amounts of "good" cholesterol increase while amounts of "bad" cholesterol decrease.

To reap these benefits, women need to walk or participate in a physical activity of moderate intensity, the results show. The risk reduction was the same for women who walked three hours a week as for those who spent one-and-a-half hours every week running, jogging, biking, swimming or engaging in other forms of vigorous exercise.

The results give women new incentive to "get off the couch and start moving," Manson said.

Time to begin walking

"It's never too late to start," said Manson, explaining that women who were sedentary at the start of the study and later started exercising enjoyed the same risk reductions as women who had always exercised.

More than 72,000 women participated in the eight-year study. Forty to 65 years old at the start of the study in 1986, the women are part of the Nurses' Health Study, the country's longest-running and largest study of women. The researchers collected the data by sending out questionnaires that asked about the women's exercise habits.

An estimated 40 percent of Americans don't exercise, said Dr. Rita Redberg, associate professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine. Another 30 percent don't exercise enough to meet the guideline recommended by the surgeon general, which is 30 minutes of "moderate-intensity physical activity on most, preferably all, days of the week."

The study results lend support to this recommendation, said Redberg, who also researches heart disease in women. Furthermore, the results emphasize that a change in lifestyle can go a long way toward reducing heart-disease risk -- more than medications alone.

Copyright 1999 WebMD, Inc. All rights reserved.

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