Walking for at least 40 minutes several times per week at an average to fast pace is associated with a near 25 per cent drop in the risk of heart failure among post-menopausal women, according to a study.
The benefit appears to be consistent regardless of a woman's body weight or whether she engages in other forms of exercise besides walking.
About 6.5 million adults have heart failure, a condition in which the heart becomes too weak to pump enough blood to meet the body's needs, researchers said.
The risk of heart failure rises with age; women 75-84 years of age are three times as likely to have heart failure compared with women 65-74 years old, they said.
"We already know that physical activity lowers the risk of heart failure, but there may be a misconception that simply walking isn't enough," said Somwail Rasla from Saint Vincent Hospital in the US.
"Our analysis shows walking is not only an accessible form of exercise but almost equal to all different types of exercise that have been studied before in terms of lowering heart failure risk," Rasla said.
"Essentially, we can reach a comparable energetic expenditure through walking that we gain from other types of physical activity," Rasla said.
The study, which analysed walking behaviour and health outcomes among 89,000 women over a more than 10-year period, is the first to examine, in detail, the benefits of walking by parsing the effects of walking frequency, duration and speed.
It is also the first to specifically focus on the risk of heart failure among women over age 50.
The study will be presented at the American College of Cardiology's 67th Annual Scientific Session on March 12.
The research is based on an analysis of data about women's habits and health outcomes from 1991-2005.
Participants were between 50 and 79 years of age at enrollment.
The researchers extracted data for women who, at baseline, were able to walk at least one block and did not have heart failure, coronary artery disease or cancer.
The findings suggest walking frequency, duration and speed each contribute about equally to this overall benefit.
Women who walked at least twice a week had a 20 to 25 percent lower risk of heart failure than those who walked less frequently.
Those who walked for 40 minutes or more at a time had a 21 to 25 percent lower risk than those taking shorter walks.
Women walking at an average or fast pace showed a 26 and 38 percent lower risk of heart failure, respectively, compared with women who walked at a casual pace.
"We actually looked at women with four different categories of body mass index (BMI) and found the same inverse relationship between walking behaviour and the risk of heart failure," Rasla said.
"The results show that even obese and overweight women can still benefit from walking to decrease their risk of heart failure," Rasla added....