March 1 (UPI) -- If post-menopausal women walk at an average pace for at least 40 minutes several times per week, their risk of heart disease will drop nearly 25 percent, according to new findings.
Dr. Somwail Rasla, who conducted the study during his residency at Brown University, will present the findings on March 12 at the American College of Cardiology's 67th Annual Scientific Session in Orlando. Ahead of the talk, the ACA on Thursday released an abstract of the study.
"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, who is now a cardiology fellow at Saint Vincent Hospital in Worcester, Mass., said in an ACC press release. "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. Essentially, we can reach a comparable energetic expenditure through walking that we gain from other types of physical activity."
Heart failure rates rise with age. Women 75-84 years of age have three times as great a chance to have heart failure, compared to women 65-74 years old, according to the release.
With exercise recommended for them, older women may be more interested in simply walking instead of other more extreme exercise, including working out at a gym, researchers say.
Data for the study comes from the Women's Health Initiative, a study of women's habits and health outcomes from 1991-2005. Participants were between 50 and 79 years when they enrolled in the long-term study.
Among 89,270 women studied over more than 10 years, there were 1,156 cases of acute hospitalized heart failure. Women whose data were considered for the study could walk at least one block and did not have heart failure, coronary artery disease or cancer. The women self reported their walking behavior and health outcomes for the duration of the study.
Women's walking behavior was categorized on frequency, duration and speed, and calculated as Metabolic Equivalent of Task. Women in the highest tertile for MET per week were 25 percent less likely to develop heart failure compared to those in the lowest tertile.
Women walking at least twice a week had a 20 percent to 25 percent lower risk of heart failure than those who walked less frequently. Also, those who walked for 40 minutes or more at a time had a 21 percent to 25 percent lower risk those taking shorter walks.
And women who walked at an average rate had a 26 percent lower risk than those walking at a casual pace. For a fast pace, there was a 38 percent lower risk.
"We actually looked at women with four different categories of body mass index 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."
In the analysis, several risk factors were accounted for -- smoking, alcohol use, family and medical history, use of hormones and overall amount of physical activity.
The study did not determine the potential effects of exercise or walking habits earlier in life.