Walking for at least 40 minutes several times per week at an average to fast pace is associated with a near 25% drop in the risk of heart failure among post-menopausal women, according to a new study.
The benefit appears to be consistent regardless of a woman’s body weight or whether she engages in other forms of exercise besides walking.
“Walking is not only an accessible form of exercise but almost equal to all different types of exercise”
The researchers said their results put meaningful physical activity within reach for older women who may be hesitant to join a gym or begin a new workout routine.
The study analysed walking behaviour and health outcomes among 89,000 women over a more than 10-year period. The was based on an analysis of data from the seminal Women’s Health Initiative, a large study that collected data about women’s habits and health outcomes from 1991-2005.
For the new study, the researchers looked at data on those who were able to walk at least one block and did not have heart failure, coronary artery disease or cancer at the start of the original trial.
They concluded that walking frequency, duration and speed each contributed about equally to this overall benefit.
Women who walked at least twice a week had a 20% to 25% lower risk of heart failure than those who walked less frequently. In addition, those who walked for 40 minutes or more at a time had a 21% to 25% lower risk than those taking shorter walks.
Meanwhile, women walking at an average or fast pace showed a 26% and 38% lower risk of heart failure, respectively, compared with women who walked at a casual pace.
The study authors said the results were consistent across different age categories, ethnicities and body weight in post-menopausal women, suggesting the findings applied to most women over 50.
Study author Dr Somwail Rasla said: “We already know that physical activity lowers the risk of heart failure, but there may be a misconception that simply walking isn’t enough.
“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,” he said.
“Essentially, we can reach a comparable energetic expenditure through walking that we gain from other types of physical activity,” said Dr Rasla.
He added: “The results show that even obese and overweight women can still benefit from walking to decrease their risk of heart failure.”
The new research was presented last month at the American College of Cardiology’s annual conference in Orlando, Florida.