Study shows older women can reduce risk of heart failure by walking more

Sep 6, 2018

A new study from the University at Buffalo shows that walking more can significantly lower the risk of heart failure in older women. UB Research Associate Professor of Epidemiology and lead author of the study Michael LaMonte said they now have scientific evidence physical activity benefits two heart failure subtypes.

Credit National Public Radio

One type of heart failure, reduced ejection fraction, usually happens to those who have already had a heart attack. This report, according to LaMonte, is important from a public health standpoint because the prognosis for people who have already suffered a heart attack can often be bleak. Now they have scientific evidence to back what has usually been perceived as common-sense.

“Sit less and move more,” said LaMonte. “Gradually increase your movement within your physical capabilities and your health status to try and achieve the current recommended amounts of activity, which is about 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity walking.”

LaMonte said this study is the largest and most comprehensive study on physically activity and heart failure ever conducted on women of any age. Data used was collected 1993-1998. The study followed women for 14 years ages 50-79 from 40 centers around the United States (one in Buffalo) as part of the Women’s Health Initiative.

Another type of heart failure, preserved ejection fraction, tends to occur in people who haven’t had a heart attack.

UB Research Associate Professor of Epidemiology and lead author of the study Michael LaMonte.
Credit University at Buffalo

“We see in adults who have no history of heart attack, eventually a form of heart failure where their heart pumps or contracts reasonably well, but over time, in layman’s terms, it just tires out and it becomes ineffective in doing its job to circulate blood,” said LaMonte.

By 2035, there’s an expected doubling of adults age 60 and older. As that doubling occurs, women will outnumber men 2 to 1 in that age.

“Over the next couple of decades there is going to be more older women alive in the population,” said LaMonte, “which gives the opportunity for more of this non-traditional form of heart failure to develop, for which we have limited treatment options.”

LaMonte said this study provides scientific-backing for a wider preventive measure that most people can do and doesn’t cost much.

“That could have a substantial public health impact on a disease that costs a lot of money to take care of and has a huge amount of human suffering associated with it,” he said.

LaMonte said they are starting to see factors that relate to this kind of heart failure tend to have long-standing exposure to hypertension, obesity and diabetes—things also common in older age post-menopausal women and race-ethnic minorities.

Approximately 80 percent of heart failure cases happen to adults 65 and over. It is currently the leading cause of hospitalization. The study found 30-45 minutes per day of activity led to a risk reduction of 9 percent overall heart failure.