Harvard Women's Health Watch

Exercise to protect your heart

A pair of studies illustrates how remaining active throughout your life is good for your heart. One of the studies, published in May 2014 in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, found that inactivity between her 30s and 80s contributes more to a woman's heart disease risk than smoking, high body mass index, or high blood pressure. The study doesn't discount the roles of those other risk factors, which are also significant, but it reinforces the importance of meeting the government's exercise goal of 150 minutes a week.

Another study, this one in the journal Circulation, finds that staying physically active after age 65 could improve your heart's electrical system and lower your risk of having a heart attack. Participants in the study who spent more time walking and who walked faster had fewer irregular heart rhythms and better heart rate variability than those who walked less or more slowly.

Heart rate variability—a measure of the variation in time between heartbeats—reflects the effects of stress on your heart, and it predicts your risk of future heart attacks and death. "Any physical activity is better than none, but maintaining or increasing your activity has added heart benefits as you age," lead author Dr. Luisa Soares-Miranda of the Harvard School of Public Health said in a statement.

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