Light activity and CVD risk in older women

March 26, 2019

A new study suggests that previous research has underestimated the impact of low-intensity movement in reducing CVD risk for women over 63.

A new study in JAMA Network Open suggests that light physical activity (PA) may be enough to significantly reduce risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) in women aged 63 year and older. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and incidence rates of myocardial infarction (MI) and fatal coronary heart disease (CHD) are higher in women over 85 years than in men of the same age. 

The 5-year prospective study followed 5,861 women aged 63 to 97 (mean  age 78.5). Participants were all ambulatory, community-dwelling enrollees in the Objectively Measured Physical Activity and Cardiovascular Health (OPACH) study and had no prior history of MI or stroke. 

To measure light PA, the women were given accelerometers and told to wear them 24 hours a day for 7 days. For this study, light PA was defined as movements with energy expenditure measured by indirect calorimetry between 1.6 and 2.9 metabolic equivalent tasks (METs) and included low-intensity movements accrued through activities in daily living. After the 7 days of accelerometer measurements, the participants were followed for nearly 5 years to track for CVD events such as MI and strokes. 

The authors found that all movement counts towards prevention of CHD and CVD in older women. After adjusting for age and race/ethnicity, the hazard ratios for CHD in the highest vs lowest quartiles of light PA were 0.42 (95% CI, 0.25-0.70; P= 0.001). For CVD, the hazard ratios between the highest and lowest quartiles of light PA after adjusting for age and race/ethnicity were 0.63 (95% CI, 0.49-0.81, < 0.001). 

The authors said their findings suggest that all physical activity has a role in preventing CHD among older women. They believe the results should help encourage this population to increase their physical activity, since the federal PA guidelines for aerobic activity of 75 minutes daily may be intimidating to women older than age 75.