PHYSICAL inactivity exerts a greater impact on a woman's lifetime risk of developing heart disease from the age of 30 than the other well-known risk factors.
Research in the British Journal of Sports Medicine said a greater effort needed to be made to promote exercise. The researchers wanted to quantify the changing contribution made to a woman's likelihood of developing heart disease across her lifetime for each of the known top four risk factors: excess weight (high BMI), smoking, high blood pressure and physical inactivity.
Together, these four risk factors account for more than half the global prevalence of heart disease, which remains the leading cause of death in high-income countries such as Ireland.
Most women in Ireland are unaware that heart disease and stroke is the leading cause of death for women – about 5,000 women die each year from cardiovascular disease. Most view heart disease as mainly a man's problem.
The Australian researchers looked at the population attributable risk (PAR) – a mathematical formula used to define the proportion of disease in a defined population that would disappear if exposure to a specific risk factor were to be eliminated.
They based their calculations on estimates of the prevalence of the four risk factors among 32,154 participants in the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women's Health, which has been tracking the long-term health of women born in 1921-6, 1946-51, and 1973-8, since 1996.
The researchers estimate that if every woman between the ages of 30 and 90 were able to reach the recommended weekly exercise quota – 150 minutes of at least moderate intensity physical activity – then the lives of more than 2,000 middle-aged and older women could be saved each year in Australia alone.
The authors conclude that the contribution of different risk factors to the likelihood of developing heart disease changes across the lifespan.
Continuing efforts to curb smoking among the young are warranted, they say. But much more emphasis should be placed on physical inactivity, which, they claim, has been dwarfed by the current focus on overweight and obesity.
The researchers said: "Our data suggest that national programmes for the promotion and maintenance of physical activity, across the adult lifespan, but especially in young adulthood, deserve to be a much higher public health priority for women than they are now."
Health & Living