Physical activity could be the best option for protecting against heart disease in women who are overweight or obese, according to the findings of a new study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.
Whilst exercise is widely regarded to improve heart health, researchers from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, tested the theory by monitoring whether exercise had an effect on overweight or obese women who had, at most, one risk factor for heart disease.
A total of 866 overweight or obese women, aged between 42 and 52, were selected from the SWAN study (Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation). The women studied were considered as “metabolically benign overweight/obese”, meaning they had one risk factor, at most, for heart disease and were therefore at a lower risk for developing the disease at the outset.
To investigate what could elevate these women into the “at-risk overweight/obese” category, the researchers looked for the following heart disease risk factors:
High fasting blood glucose levels
Hypertension (high blood pressure)
A low level of HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol)
High triglyceride levels
Increased levels of C-reactive protein – a measure of inflammation
Each woman was tested on an annual basis throughout the 7 year study for these risk factors of and also completed a survey each year that detailed their level of physical activity over the previous 12 months.
Over the course of the 7 years, 43% of the women went from having a low risk of heart disease to being ‘at risk’ by having 2 or more risk factors in addition to being overweight.
The results of the study, however, showed that a low-to -moderate level of activity was associated with a 16% decrease in risk of developing one or more additional risk factors for heart disease. By contrast, women who gained weight became 16% more likely to fall into the ‘at risk’ category of heart disease by having 2 or more risk factors for heart disease in addition to being overweight/obese.
When researchers reviewed whether the single risk factor the women started with had any bearing on the likelihood of developing another risk factor over the 7 years, they found that those who started the study with high blood pressure were 3 times as likely to develop another risk factor, while women with high fasting blood glucose levels (considered as diabetic or prediabetic) were more than 3 times as likely to gain at least one more risk factor.
In conclusio, researcher Dr Unab Khan noted that the study showed that exercise and other physical activity could be key factor in reducing the risk of heart disease for women who are overweight or obese.