Lack of exercise among women 30 years and older has a greater impact on the lifetime risk of heart disease than other factors, such as high body mass index, researchers report in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
The authors argue that the findings, which were based on calculations taken from data collected by the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women's Health, should spur increased promotion of exercise among young adult women.
- Physical inactivity, or lack of exercise, among women 30 and older is a greater factor in determining the risk of developing heart disease than other factors, including high BMI, smoking, and high blood pressure.
- The findings emphasize the need for greater promotion of exercise in young adult women.
To quantify the contributing factors for heart disease in women, the researchers looked at excess weight (high BMI), smoking, high blood pressure, and physical inactivity.
Although smoking was the most important contributor to heart disease in women prior to turning 30, low physical activity levels were responsible for the highest levels of heart disease risk after age 30, the authors reported. They estimated that if every woman between 30 and 90 was able to exercise weekly for at least 2.5 hours, more than 2,000 lives could be saved each year in Australia.
The researchers also found that while smoking decreased from 28% among women aged 22 to 27 years to 5% among women aged 73 to 78 years, the prevalence of inactivity and high blood pressure increased steadily across the lifespan, from age 22 to 90. Being overweight increased from age 22 to 64 but declined in older age.
Still, the authors concluded that clinicians and public health officials must continue to focus on reducing all the different risk factors for heart disease. Curbing smoking in youth is still important, they noted, but more emphasis is needed on encouraging physical activity.
"Our data suggest that national programmes for the promotion and maintenance of physical activity, across the adult lifespan, but especially in young adulthood, deserve to be a much higher public health priority for women than they are now," they concluded.