Researchers from the University of Queensland found that physical inactivity was the leading risk factor for heart disease for Australian women at every age from the early 30s to late 80s.
"We have to get everyone to move more," said lead author Wendy Brown, director of the university's Center for Research on Exercise, Physical Activity and Health. "From about age 30, physical activity levels decline. We need to do everything.”
According to the study, which looked at the lifespan of over 32,000 Australian women, smoking, excess weight, physical inactivity were the top four risk factors for heart disease.
The data, drawn from the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health, found that younger women were more likely to smoke, which raised their risk of heart disease. Smoking was the most important contributor to heart disease among younger women. However, smoking rates also fell 28 percent in women 22 to 27, and 5 percent in women 73 to 78. But physical inactivity and high blood pressure increased steadily among women 22 to 90.
Other risk factors for heart disease include diabetes, high cholesterol, stress, and alcohol consumption.
The findings were published in the online British Journal of Sports Medicine on May 8.
Although the study was conducted in Australia, the top four heart disease risk factors among Aussie women account for more than half the heart disease worldwide. Heart disease kills more people every year than all forms of cancer combined, and is the number one cause of death among black, white, and Hispanic women.
The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week. The AHA says 30 minutes of exercise per day for five days is an easy goal to remember.
Exercises for heart health
Aerobic exercises are the best for heart health, since they require the heart and lungs to work harder to compensate for the body’s increased demand for oxygen. Aerobic exercise includes running, jogging, and biking. Even walking is an aerobic exercise, with experts recommending 10,000 steps a day – roughly five miles – to keep the heart healthy.
Swimming is another form of aerobic exercise, and works not only the heart and lungs, but the arms and legs, and other muscle groups as well. You can start with five to 10-minute laps and increase your time until you can swim for half an hour to an hour without stopping.
Circuit training is one of the best types of exercise to increase cardiovascular fitness. When you work out at a very high intensity the blood starts to pump a lot harder and that challenges the elasticity of the arterial wall,” Brendan J. Fox, a Toronto-based health and fitness expert, told Best Health magazine. “It sort of stretches the arteries and improves the elasticity for better cardiovascular fitness.”
In addition to exercise, women who want to protect their heart health may want to stay away from diet soda. According to a recent study from the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study, older women who drank two or more diet sodas per day were 30 percent more likely to suffer a cardiovascular event and 50 percent more likely to die from related diseases than women who rarely drank diet sodas.