In a new study, researchers found that women who met the federal physical activity guideline of 30 minutes per day of moderate activity exclusively through walking had a much lower risk of developing high blood pressure.
They also found that women who did not achieve recommended levels of walking but who walked at 2 mph (a 30-minute mile) or faster still had a reduced risk of high blood pressure.
The research was led by University at Buffalo scientists.
Another study of more than 80,000 postmenopausal women aged 50 to 79 found that more time spent in sedentary behavior while awake, such as sitting or lying on the couch, is linked to a higher risk of heart failure hospitalization.
In fact, women who spent more than 9.5 hours per day sitting or lying down had a 42% higher risk of developing heart failure during the nine years after first assessing sedentary time.
This finding was evident even after accounting for physical activity levels and heart failure risk factors such as hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and heart attack.
Taken together, the two studies send a powerful message: Sit less, walk more for heart health.
Both studies relied on data collected over time from participants in the Women’s Health Initiative.
The first study found that brisk walking—identified as a 30-minute mile—for 150 minutes or more per week is linked to a lower risk of hypertension in older women.
Walking speed is strongly linked to lower hypertension risk after adjusting for the walking duration, suggesting that walking faster might have greater blood pressure benefits over volume or duration.
The work adds to growing evidence that people don’t necessarily have to be an avid jogger or cyclist to gain health benefits from physical activity.
Just going for regular walks can have a meaningful impact on important risk factors for cardiovascular disease, in this case, blood pressure.
This is especially important to older adults because walking is an accessible activity for all ages.
The researchers also note that women whose walking speed was slower than 2 mph had a significantly higher 5% to 8% risk of hypertension compared with non-walkers.
Very few studies have examined sedentary time and heart failure risk, and none have focused on older women in whom both sedentary behavior and heart failure are common.
In the second study, during an average of nine years of follow-up, 1,402 women were hospitalized due to heart failure.
Compared with women who reported spending less than 6.5 hours per day sitting or lying down, the risk of heart failure hospitalization was:
15% higher in women reporting 6.6-9.5 hours daily spent sitting or lying down;
42% higher in women reporting more than 9.5 hours daily spent sitting or lying down.
Compared with women who reported sitting less than 4.5 hours a day, the risk of heart failure hospitalization was:
14% higher in women who sat between 4.6 and 8.5 hours each day;
54% higher in women who sat more than 8.5 hours a day.
Researchers saw a 42% higher risk of developing heart failure among women who were sedentary for more than 9.5 hours per day.
When they further accounted for heart attack—a major cause of heart failure that also leads to more sedentary time—the strongly increased risk of heart failure continued to be seen with prolonged sitting time.
The team will soon have results from a new study using accelerometers, which will show that simply standing up to break up sedentary time is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.
The team says sedentary behavior increases poorer cardiometabolic risk factor, which increases the likelihood of onset and progression of arterial atherosclerosis and blood clots in arteries,
These are precursors to angina and heart attack, of which heart failure is a major consequence.
Sedentary time also reduces the pumping effectiveness of the heart, which is a major manifestation of clinical heart failure.
One author of the study is Michael LaMonte, Ph.D., research associate professor of epidemiology.
The study findings are published in Hypertension and Circulation: Heart Failure.
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