Save Your Heart By Exercising Two to Three Times Per Week

Four Midlife Walking Women
Four Walking Women. Ariel Skelley/Blend Images/Getty Images

How much exercise do middle-aged women need to reduce their risk of heart disease, stroke and blood clots? A large study from Britain brings good news - middle-aged women exercising two to three times per week were 20% less likely to suffer those conditions than inactive women. Walking and other moderately intense exercise such as cycling and gardening were associated with reduced risks.

    A Little Activity Goes a Long Ways to Reduce Heart Health Risks
    Being more active did not decrease risks more than being moderately active. The biggest effect was seen between women who didn't exercise at all and those who reported exercising two to three times per week. The definition of exercise in the study was "enough to cause sweating or a fast heartbeat."

    The bottom line is for inactive women to try to do some activity regularly, said lead author Miranda Armstrong, M.Phil., Ph.D, in an American Heart Association press release.

    Study Followed Over 1 Million Middle-Aged Women for 9 Years
    The study followed over a million women in the United Kingdom for nine years, starting at an average age of 56. The subjects had no history of cancer, heart disease, stroke, blood clots, or diabetes. They were asked at the beginning of the study and at year three how much they exercised.

    The study first asked “How often do you do any strenuous exercise?

    (that is, enough to cause sweating or a fast heart beat)”, and “How often do you do any exercise?” They were limited in responding rarely/never, less than once a week, once a week, 2-3 times a week, 4-6 times a week,  or every day.

    In the follow-up survey three years later they were asked “About how many hours each week do you spend doing: housework, gardening, walking, cycling, any work or exercise causing sweating or a fast heartbeat." The answers to this question matched well with the way they question was phrased on the baseline survey.

    How Much Exercise Do You Need?
    This study is very encouraging that even small amounts of regular physical activity can reduce health risks. The amount of exercise found to be effective for these women was less than the minimum recommended by health authorities. The recommendation of the American Heart Association is 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise (such as brisk walking) five days per week or 20 minutes of vigorous exercise (such as running) three days per week.

    This study points out that inactivity is what needs to be avoided. Enjoying any physical exercise two to three times per week may reduce your heart health risks.

    Women who hate the gym don't have to think that is the only way get beneficial exercise. Taking up enjoyable activities such as gardening, walking or bicycling may ward off heart disease, stroke and blood clots.

    More: 10 Reasons to Start Walking


    Miranda E. G. Armstrong, MPhil(cantab), PhD; Jane Green, BMBCh, DPhil; Gillian K. Reeves, MSc, PhD; Valerie Beral, DBE AC FRS; Benjamin J. Cairns, PhD. "Frequent Physical Activity May not Reduce Vascular Disease Risk as Much as Moderate Activity: Large Prospective Study of UK Women." Circulation. February 16, 2015 doi: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.114.010296

    Press Release: "Women active a few times weekly have lower risk of heart disease, stroke and blood clots." American Heart Association, February 16, 2015

    Continue Reading