Routine walking cuts heart failure risk by 25% for post-menopausal women

Post-menopausal women who go on exercise walks at least twice per week enjoy a 20 to 25 percent risk reduction for heart failure, according to research that will be presented March 12 at the American College of Cardiology’s annual scientific session in Orlando, Florida.

“We already know that physical activity lowers the risk of heart failure, but there may be a misconception that simply walking isn’t enough,” Somwail Rasla, MD, who conducted the research during his residency at Brown University, said in a press release. “Our analysis shows walking is not only an accessible form of exercise but almost equal to all different types of exercise that have been studied before in terms of lowering heart failure risk. Essentially, we can reach a comparable energetic expenditure through walking that we gain from other types of physical activity.”

The researchers found the duration and speed of the walks further reduced the risk of heart failure. Walking for 40 minutes at a time or longer was associated with a 21 to 25 percent reduction in heart failure risk compared to women who took shorter walks. In addition, walking at an average or fast pace lowered the risk of heart failure by 26 to 38 percent when compared to women who walked slower.

Rasla and colleagues analyzed the walking behavior and health outcomes of approximately 89,000 women over a 10-year period. All participants were between 50 and 79 years old at baseline, were able to walk at least one block and didn’t have heart failure, coronary artery disease or cancer.

From participant questionnaires, the researchers gleaned information about walking frequency, duration and speed. They used these variables to calculate each woman’s Metabolic Equivalent of Task (MET), a measure of energy expenditure. Women in the top MET tertile per week averaged 25 percent lower odds of heart failure than those in the lowest tertile, according to the release.

Importantly, the results were consistent across age categories, ethnicities and baseline body weight, suggesting the benefits of walking can be applied to all women older than 50.

“We actually looked at women with four different categories of body mass index and found the same inverse relationship between walking behavior and the risk of heart failure,” Rasla said. “The results show that even obese and overweight women can still benefit from walking to decrease their risk of heart failure.”

Limitations of the study include that it relied on participants’ self-reports, and researchers were unable to account for whether pre-enrollment exercise habits played a role in outcomes.