In a new study from University at Buffalo, researchers found for the first time that walking more can strongly lower the risk of heart failure in older women.
Heart failure mainly affects older adults, with about 80% of cases occurring in people 65 and older, an age group for whom heart failure is the leading cause of hospitalization.
Reduced ejection fraction heart failure typically occurs in people who’ve had a heart attack.
The heart becomes a poorer pump, which leads to related complications, including the failure of other organs and the need for a heart transplant or even sudden cardiac death.
Heart failure with preserved ejection fraction can occur in people who haven’t had a heart attack but do have high blood pressure or diabetes.
In the current study, the team examined self-reported physical activity information from 137,303 participants in the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI).
They then looked at a subset of 35,272 women who had either reduced ejection fraction or preserved ejection fraction heart failure. The women were aged 50 to 79.
They found that over an average 14-year follow-up, there were 2,523 cases of heart failure, including 451 with reduced ejection fraction and 734 with preserved ejection fraction.
The results showed that overall heart failure was lower with increasing physical activity, compared to women who reported no physical activity at baseline.
Each additional 30 to 45 minutes per day of activity was linked to a risk reduction of 9% for overall heart failure, 8% for heart failure with preserved ejection fraction and 10% for heart failure with reduced ejection fraction.
In addition to reducing overall heart failure by 25%, high physical activity benefitted two heart failure subtypes defined by cardiac function.
One is reduced ejection fraction, which typically has a worse prognosis; the other is preserved ejection fraction, which is more common in older adults, especially women and racial-ethnic minorities.
It is the largest and most comprehensive to date that has examined how physical activity could help with heart failure prevention.
The findings are also significant considering that the population of people 60 and over in the U.S. is expected to double by 2035, with women outnumbering men 2 to 1.
The take-home message, according to the team, is “move more, sit less, which is probably prudent advice for us all.”
Michael LaMonte, Ph.D., is the study’s lead author.
The findings are published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology: Heart Failure (JACC-HF).
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Source: Journal of the American College of Cardiology: Heart Failure.