From Featuring Dr Chris Steele MBE

Walking cuts risk of heart attack in women

Setting a brisk pace important

Walking for two or more hours a week, or walking at a brisk pace can significantly cut the risk of heart attacks and strokes, a new study has found.

The reduced risk was seen for three different types of stroke - total stroke, clot related (ischemic) and bleeding (hemorrhagic).

Headline figures

-Women who normally walked at a brisk pace (3 miles per hour or faster) had a 37 per cent lower risk of any stroke. -They also had a 68 per cent lower risk of hemorrhagic stroke and a 25 per cent lower risk of ischemic stroke. -Women who walked at any pace for more than 2 hours per week had a 30 per cent lower risk for any stroke. -These women also had a 57 per cent lower risk of hemorrhagic stroke and a 21 per cent lower risk of ischemic stroke.

In general, active people have a lower risk of stroke than the inactive, with previous studies estimating a reduction of between 25 and 30 per cent. The exact relationship between different types of exercise and stroke risk in general is not well understood, but this study shows a clear link between walking and risk reduction.

About the study

Nearly 40,000 female health professionals participated in the study which took place over a number of years. They reported on their exercise habits and general physical activates, as well as estimating their normal walking speed as being in one of 5 groupings - no walking, casual (about 2 mph), normal (2.9 mph), brisk (3.9 mph) or very brisk (4 mph).

Although the participants rated their own speed, as the study covered a large number of individuals with some medical training providing detailed information about their habits, the results can be considered to be significant.

Interestingly the researchers didn't find a link between vigorous activity and reduced stroke risk. The reason is unclear, but they suspect that too few women reported vigorous activity in the study to get an accurate picture and/or that moderate-intensity activity may be more effective at lowering blood pressure as suggested by some previous research.

Commenting on the study, lead author Jacob R. Sattelmair said "Physical activity is essential to promoting cardiovascular health and reducing risk of cardiovascular disease, and walking is one way of achieving physical activity."

In terms of how these results would apply to men, he noted that "the exact relation between walking and stroke risk identified in this study is not directly generalizable to men - in previous studies, the relation between walking and stroke risk among men has been inconsistent."

The study was carried out at the Harvard School of Public Health and was supported by the American National Institutes of Health.

This article was published on Wed 7 April 2010