Heart disease is still the leading cause of death in the United States, killing 1 in 4 women every year. But while many studies surrounding female heart health have demonstrated the benefits of exercise, most have focused on women in middle or older age. Now, a new Indiana University study reveals it may be just as beneficial for younger women.
Using data from the ongoing Nurses’ Health Study, researchers looked at the daily habits of more than 90,000 women between the ages of 27 and 44. What they discovered was that just 2.5 hours of moderate exercise (such as brisk walking) every week was associated with a 25% lower risk of heart disease when compared with women who didn’t exercise at all.
“Also, exercise lowers risk of heart disease whether you’re normal weight, overweight or obese,” said lead author Andrea Chomistek, who also pointed out that the benefits were seen regardless of frequency—meaning as long as the women were active at least two and a half hours every week, it didn’t matter when or how long each period of activity lasted.
Study authors admit that their findings may not show a direct relationship between exercise and cardiovascular health—since women who exercise regularly may also be more likely to practice heart-healthy habits such as watching what they eat, managing stress and getting enough sleep—but their findings are in line with other studies showing the overall health benefits of regular physical activity.