Even Young Women Can Reduce the Risk of Heart Disease Through Exercise

Many studies have shown the benefits of exercise for a long and healthy life, but new research emphasizes just how important physical activity can be for reducing the risk of heart disease, even among younger women.

The study, published in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation, found that women under age 50 who spent two and a half hours exercising every week had a 25% lower chance of heart attack or other coronary disease.

“It doesn’t matter if the exercise is moderate or vigorous, if you do it six days per week or three… every little bit counts,” said lead author Andrea Chomistek of the Indiana University School of Public Health.

The study followed 97,000 women ages 27 to 44 who participated in the Nurses Health Survey starting in 1991. By 2011, there had been 544 cases of coronary heart disease in the group, but women who exercised recorded far fewer incidents.

The correlation remained regardless of the subjects’ body weight, though the greatest differences were seen between inactive, overweight women versus normal-weight active women; the latter group had a 50% lower risk of heart disease.

Heart disease was the number-one killer of women and men alike in 2013. While this new research does support the notion that exercise is associated with a decreased risk of heart disease, it still doesn’t prove causation, researchers say.

“Women who are more active might be doing a whole range of other health-promoting behaviors such as eating healthier diets, getting regular sleep, managing stress, and so forth,” said Dr. Erin D. Michos of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, who coauthored an editorial accompanying the publication. “Which means to say greater active time might simply be just a marker of a better health state overall.”

However, it’s still good enough reason for women to stay active, Chomistek said. “Young women should engage in whatever form of exercise they enjoy and are most likely to stick with, whether it be moderate or vigorous activity.”

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