They parsed the sources of cardiovascular risk among
women of all ages in Australia and found smoking, obesity and high
blood pressure are near the top of the list. But if all sedentary
women ramped up their activity levels, the largest number of deaths
would be averted.
“Understanding the risks associated with the development of serious
health problems can inform more targeted intervention strategies,”
said the study’s lead author Wendy Brown, an exercise physiologist
at the University of Queensland.
Heart disease is the leading killer of women in the United States,
where an estimated one in four women dies of the disease, and
similar statistics prevail in Australia.
To measure the importance of various risk factors for heart disease,
Brown and her team analyzed data from a long-term study that
followed Australian women from 1996 to 2011, surveying them about
their lifestyle and health every three years.
The roughly 30,000 participants ranged from 22 to 90 years old and
fell into three groups born from 1973 to 1978, 1946 to 1951 and 1921
The researchers calculated for each group the extent to which the
presence of heart disease could be attributed to body mass index
(BMI, a measure of weight relative to height), physical inactivity,
high blood pressure or smoking.
Overall, being sedentary was the greatest contributor to heart
disease among women over age 30, including women as old as 90.
Smoking was the biggest culprit among women between the ages of 22
and 27. In that group, where heart disease is rare, smoking
accounted for about 60 percent of it, according to the results
published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
High blood pressure was least common among the youngest women, and
high BMI (overweight or obese) was most common in the middle age
Inactivity was widespread, with 65 percent of women 73 to 78 years
old and 81 percent of those 85 to 90 getting little or no physical
[to top of second column]
Based on rates of death from heart disease in Australia, the
researchers calculated that if all the women represented by the
study population could do about 1 hour of moderately intense
activity a day, some 2,612 deaths would be avoided.
That’s more Australian women than are killed in road accidents each
year, they point out.
“Physical activity hasn’t been studied as well; the other risk
factors (like body mass index) have been more targeted in the past,”
said Nisha Parikh, a cardiologist at the University of California,
San Francisco, who was not involved in the study.
“The nice thing is all these things track together,” Parikh told
Reuters Health. “If you increase your physical activity, you
generally lower body mass index, and you’re also going to have an
impact on lowering blood pressure,” she said.
The study shows the importance of boosting activity levels at all
ages, she added, and although that can be difficult, there are many
simple ways for busy people to get in a few extra steps each day,
like taking the stairs and parking a little farther away from their
“Those kinds of things increase physical activity in a way that
doesn’t impact the rest of the things busy people have going on,”
SOURCE: bit.ly/1jEjPrA British Journal of Sports Medicine, online
May 8, 2014.
[© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2014 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.