HEART HEALTH MOVE YOUR BODY
About 250,000 Americans die every year because of a lack of exercise.
By TRACEY D'ASTOLFO
Poor physical fitness increases the risk of death in women more than in men, according to the American Heart Association.
Most studies showing the positive effects of exercise have been done with men, says the AHA, but the few studies that have included women have indicated that women may benefit even more than men from being physically fit. Early indications show that physically fit women enjoy even greater reduced rates of death from heart disease than men.
Recent results of a study that followed 5,721 women without heart disease for a period of 10 years showed that physical fitness was a strong predictor of death. The study showed that the greater the amount of physical activity in a woman, the slimmer her chances of dying of heart disease.
A similar study on men showed that although fitness levels did decrease the chance of death by heart disease, women benefited more than twice as much from higher fitness levels.
The AHA estimates that up to 250,000 deaths per year in the United States -- about 12 percent of total deaths -- are because of a lack of regular physical activity.
Women who don't exercise have twice the chance of dying from heart disease as women who do exercise, reports the AHA.
"The key to reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease is eliminating risk factors, one being physical inactivity," stated Rosin Duraney, cardiopulmonary rehabilitation supervisor at Salem Community Hospital. "Other risk factors include high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol levels, obesity or being overweight, diabetes and smoking. With the exception of smoking, physical activity reduces the risk of all of the other risk factors."
According to the American Medical Association, regular physical activity improves heart function, helps lower the levels of harmful low-density lipoprotein (LDL) type cholesterol in the blood and helps raise the levels of beneficial high-density lipoprotein (HDL) type cholesterol in the blood.
"Making exercise part of their daily routine is one way women can help to reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease," said Duraney. "However, before beginning any exercise program, it's important to consult your physician."
Beth Lavender was 37 when doctors discovered a hole in her heart. After surgery to repair the hole, Lavender, who had played college sports and had remained physically active, was told to maintain her fitness regimen.
"The doctor said it was good that I was an athlete because it kept my heart muscle strong, and he said to continue doing the same level of physical activity," said Lavender.
Researchers have found that light to moderate activity, as well as vigorous activity, is associated with a lower risk of coronary heart disease.
The U.S. Surgeon General's recommendations for exercise calls for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity four to six days a week.
"A good strategy for beginners is to exercise in increments," stated Greg Reed, exercise specialist on the cardiopulmonary rehabilitation staff at Salem Community Hospital. "For instance, you could walk 15 minutes in the morning, bike 15 minutes in the afternoon and perhaps add swimming at another time during the day. Studies show that the benefits of spreading exercise throughout the day are comparable to performing activities in one block of time."
Reason to walk
Cindy Torquati, a Youngstown nurse, wanted to maximize her health after a major blockage was found in her coronary artery. Doctors also told Torquati, an avid runner, to continue exercising.
"I walk on the treadmill at home five or six days a week," said Torquati. "I exercise more now. I used to do it four days a week when I didn't feel like I had to. Then I was just doing it to stay fit. Now I exercise because I'm hoping I'm doing some good for my heart."
Torquati said her doctor recommended walking instead of running, because running puts stress on the knees and other parts of the body.
The AHA recommends that people middle-aged or older who are inactive and at high risk for heart disease -- or who already have a medical condition -- seek medical advice before they start or significantly increase their physical activity. Most apparently healthy people of any age can safely engage in moderate levels of physical activity without consulting a doctor first.