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Walking as Little as Hour a Week Good for Women's Hearts

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"Our study found that walking at least an hour a week regardless of pace is associated with lower risk of heart disease, and this is a lesser level of physical activity than has been shown in previous studies," Lee tells WebMD. She says that it's only human nature to try to get away with as little as possible, including exercise. And when recommendations change as they have over the past few years -- from "No pain, no gain" (go all-out at least three times per week) to "train, don't strain" (exercise less strenuously but more frequently), people tend to get confused.

Interestingly enough, both approaches burn off about the same amount of calories, Lee says. "It's just offering people a choice: Do you want to do it vigorously over a short period of time, or do you want to do it moderately over a longer period of time. We really don't have a lot of information, especially in women, regarding the kinds of intensive activities that might be beneficial for them."

Lee and colleagues looked at data on nearly 40,000 women who took part in a nationwide health study, and looked for a relationship between exercise and recreational activities and coronary heart disease. In all, there were 244 cases of coronary heart disease, and after the researchers eliminated other possible causes of heart disease, they found that women who walked at even a leisurely 2 to 3 miles per hour still had about a 44% to 30% lower risk for heart disease than women who never get moving at all.

"These data suggest that walking need not be fast-paced for benefit; time spent walking was more important than walking pace," Lee and colleagues write.

They also found that even light activities had heart benefits for women who were overweight, smoked, or had high cholesterol.

"If you do nothing, a little will help you. If you're already doing something, to get more benefit you need to do more," Lee tells WebMD. "One hour a week is actually less than what is currently recommended, and because of that, I feel that confirmation of these findings would be desirable, and my conservative interpretation of these data would be to say that they do support current recommendations for moderate-intensity for physical activity, half an hour a day most days of the week. I think what's really encouraging is that this study suggests that perhaps even doing lesser levels of activity may also be beneficial."

 

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