If you’re a middle-aged woman who didn’t get to the gym every day last week, here’s some good news. Moderate physical activity (including walking and doing housework) may be enough to keep your heart and blood vessels healthy, according to a recent study.
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As part of The Million Women Study in the United Kingdom, 1.1 million healthy women, ages 50 to 64, reported their frequency and type of physical activity. Researchers compared data to the women’s incidence of heart attack, stroke and blood clots over approximately nine years.
The findings: Women who were active two or three days per week had significantly lower risks of all three conditions than those who didn’t exercise at all. That might not be surprising. However, they also had lower risks than those who exercised daily.
The study concluded that while moderate physical activity can help protect against cardiovascular disease, more activity isn’t necessarily better.
Give up intense exercise? Not so fast
Don’t use this study as an excuse to give up long-distance running or other intense exercise, says Natalie Evans, MD, a vascular medicine specialist at Cleveland Clinic.
“I wouldn’t tell any patient to exercise less unless it was causing stress fractures, tendonitis or other specific harm,” she says. “I’m not convinced that strenuous activity doesn’t reduce vascular disease risk as much as moderate activity. I think this study and some others before it that have shown less benefit for those who were inactive or who exercised strenuously compared with moderate exercisers, have statistical limitations.”
Some activity is better than none
It’s clear, however, that even moderate activity has benefits. Walking, gardening, doing housework — or any activity that makes you sweat or raises your heart rate — contributes to cardiovascular health.
Dr. Evans emphasizes that some activity is better than none. Exercising three days per week can improve your heart disease risk factors by:
- Helping control high blood pressure
- Lowering cholesterol
- Reducing body fat
- Reducing risk of diabetes
“If you’re totally sedentary, get off the couch,” says Dr. Evans. “But if you’re a daily strenuous exerciser, and it’s what you like to do and it makes you feel good, keep doing it.”