Menopausal Women Need to Be Physically Active to Protect Their Hearts

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • Sometimes it is really inviting to stay in front of the computer or the television, especially on these hot summer days. Why get up and move? Well, there’s one big reason to avoid being a regular couch (or computer) potato. That’s because getting up and doing physical activity increasingly becomes important for women who have gone through the menopausal transition so they can strengthen their heart!

    As I’ve mentioned in previous shareposts, the risk of heart disease goes up once you go through menopause. While this transition doesn’t cause cardiovascular disease, certain risk factors often increase during this time as a result of lifestyle choices such as smoking, a high-fat diet and other less-than-healthy habits. While about 35,000 women in the United States have a heart attack before the age of 50, there’s a significant increase in these episodes in women who had their last menstrual period a decade previously.  One factor in this increased risk is thought to be the natural decline of estrogen during the menopausal transition. This hormone is believed to protect the inner layer of the artery wall, which keeps the arteries and veins flexible so they can push blood through the cardiovascular system.

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    So why be proactive in literally taking steps to protect your heart health? A new study out of Stanford University’s School of Medicine involved more than 81,000 post-menopausal women who were between the ages of 50 and 79. These women were part of the Women’s Health Initiative study and were followed for more than a decade. As part of the study, the researchers asked the women how often they walked outside for at least 10 minutes daily. They also were asked how often they took part in a physical activity at an intensity that made them sweat.

    At the end of 11 years, the researchers’ analysis found the following:

    • The women who were the most physically active had a 10-percent lower risk of developing atrial fibrillation than women who didn’t walk outside for 10 minutes at least once a week. In comparison, the women who were the most active participated in some type of exercise that was the equivalent of walking briskly for 30 minutes six days a week or bicycling at a leisurely pace for an hour twice a week.
    • Women who took part in moderate physical activity such as walking briskly for 30 minutes twice a week had at least a six-percent lower risk of developing atrial fibrillation.
    • Women who participated in strenuous physical activity such as running for two hours a week had a nine-percent lower risk of developing atrial fibrillation.
    • Researchers also found that women who were the most physically active had a lower risk of developing atrial fibrillation, even if they were obese, than women who took part in lower levels of physical activity.
    • The researchers also discounted a previous study that suggested that strenuous exercise might increase a woman’s risk of atrial fibrillation. “There shouldn’t be a concern about these degrees of exercise and AF (atrial fibrillation) in older women,” said Dr. Marco V. Perez, the study’s lead author and director of Stanford’s Inherited Arrhythmia Clinic.

    So this news is a great reminder that it’s important to get some level of regular physical activity. Obviously, daily exercise would be great, but even if you can only work it into your schedule several times a week, it’s still better than nothing. And this news also should serve as a good reminder to think carefully about the other lifestyle choices you make. That’s because how we treat our bodies during the menopausal transition and then afterward we’ve completed “the change” can make a real difference in the quality – and quantity – of our lives.

  • Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

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    American Heart Association. (2014). Exercise may protect older women from irregular heartbeat.

    American Heart Association. (2013). Menopause and heart disease.

Published On: August 26, 2014