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A little activity makes a big difference to women's hearts

Older woman outdoors, wearing a sun hat and gloves and carrying a flowerpot and garden trowel.

April 23, 2019—Heart disease is the leading cause of death for American women. But a first-of-its-kind study now suggests that even a small increase in light physical activity reduces the risk of heart issues for older women. And the kind of activity isn't vital. Taking a walk, gardening or even folding laundry counts.

Researchers tracked more than 5,800 women ages 63 to 97. None of them had had a heart attack or stroke before. Each wore a monitor that measured her activity 24 hours a day for one week. The monitors tracked all movement, down to walking to the mailbox or doing the dishes. They could also tell the difference between levels of activity. Researchers then tracked the participants' heart health for almost five years.

The results were clear. Women who were routinely more active had a lower risk of events like stroke or heart failure—by up to 22%. And their chance of heart attack was as much as 42% lower.

The key takeaway: All movement matters for your heart health.

In 2016, only a quarter of American women 75 and older met the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. These suggest that most adults get at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes a week of vigorous activity.

A government report from 2018 stressed that even a modest increase in activity can cut the risk of life-threatening conditions.

This research was funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and published in JAMA Network Open.

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