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Heart health: Sorry men, study shows women get more benefits from exercise

Crystal Graham
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A James Madison University nursing professor is using American Heart Month to educate women about the prevalence of cardiovascular disease.

While cardiovascular disease kills more women than all forms of cancer combined, many women still aren’t aware it is the number one killer of women.

“Many women remain unaware of cardiovascular risk factors and many healthcare providers who care for women are also poorly informed and feel ill-prepared to assess women for cardiovascular risk,” said Modjadji Choshi, a JMU nursing professor.

In addition to teaching, Choshi has worked in cardiac critical care nursing.

“It is important for women, and those who love them, to be aware of these statistics and to take steps to reduce their risk factors through lifestyle changes such as eating a healthy and nutritious diet, getting regular physical activity, not smoking, managing any medical conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes and high cholesterol, and preventative measures such as regular check-ups and screenings,” said Choshi. “Also, managing stress and getting enough sleep helps.”

JMU announced today that it is partnering with the Virginia Department of Health to implement and evaluate evidence-based strategies to improve blood pressure control, reduce disparities in cardiovascular disease and connect communities at high risk for heart disease and stroke to clinical and social services.

The Institute for Innovation in Health and Human Services at JMU has entered a partnership with VDH on two multi-million-dollar grants from the Center for Disease Control to focus on cardiovascular health.

The benefits of exercise to heart health

A new study published Monday in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology agrees with Choshi that getting regular exercise may benefit women – even more so than men.

The study found that women who exercised for at least 150 minutes a week were 24 percent less likely to die from any causes than women who exercised less than that amount. Men who exercised the same amount were 15 percent less likely to die.

With moderate to vigorous aerobic physical activity, such as brisk walking or cycling, the research team found that men reached their maximal survival benefit from doing this level of exercise for about five hours per week. Women achieved the same degree of survival benefit from exercising just under about 2 1/2 hours per week.

When it came to muscle-strengthening activity, such as weightlifting or core body exercises, men reached their peak benefit from doing three sessions per week and women gained the same amount of benefit from about one session per week.

“The beauty of this study is learning that women can get more out of each minute of moderate to vigorous activity than men do. It’s an incentivizing notion that we hope women will take to heart,” said Martha Gulati, MD, director of Preventive Cardiology in the Department of Cardiology in the Smidt Heart Institute at Cedars-Sinai.

The study looked at more than 400,000 U.S. adults from 1997 to 2019.

“I am hopeful that this pioneering research will motivate women who are not currently engaged in regular physical activity to understand that they are in a position to gain tremendous benefit for each increment of regular exercise they are able to invest in their longer-term health,” said Christine M. Albert, MD, MPH.

American Heart Month is observed each year in February.

Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.