Preventing Disease with Exercise

Physical activity among women reduced risk for chronic diseases

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Your health care provider may emphasize the importance of exercise, but exactly how important is physical activity for staying healthy?

A recent review looked at previous studies on physical activity and health among women.

The authors of this review found that 30 minutes of daily exercise has been linked to a reduced risk of death, heart problems and diabetes.

However, they noted that many women do not meet the basic guidelines for physical activity.

"Exercise for at least 30 minutes per day."

Shari Bassuk, ScD, of the Division of Preventive Medicine in Brigham Women's Hospital, led this review on physical activity.

"Almost every system in the body benefits from exercise," said Rusty Gregory, a certified wellness coach and dailyRx Contributing Expert. "By strengthening muscles and bones, heart and lungs, the immune system, and even areas unknown to science at this time, we take a huge step towards warding off chronic diseases. If exercise were a drug, it would be the most prescribed medication in the world."

According to Bassuk and colleagues, medical authorities in the US recommend that all adults exercise for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week. However, some surveys indicate that half of women do not meet those guidelines.

This review examined evidence from previous studies on the benefits of physical activity for women.

The researchers investigated the effects of physical activity on death, heart disease, diabetes, cancer and bone health.

According to an analysis of 22 studies, people who exercised for 2.5 hours per week reduced their risk of death by 19 percent compared to people who did not exercise.

Additionally, the researchers referenced a study involving 655,000 adults that found that women who exercised leisurely for only 11 minutes a day added about 2.1 years to their lifespan.

The Women's Health Initiative Observational Study, which included 73,000 postmenopausal women, looked at the connection between exercise and heart health. That study found that women who walked briskly for more than 2.5 hours per week had a 30 percent reduction in their risk of heart attack, stroke or other major heart health events.

The researchers of this review also found that it's never too late to become active. The Nurses' Health Study, which focused on women ages 40 to 65, concluded that active women were up to 33 percent less likely to have a heart health event than sedentary women.

Many studies also have shown a link between type 2 diabetes and physical inactivity.

In an analysis that included 10 studies and 301,000 participants, habitual exercise led to a 17 percent reduction in diabetes risk compared to inactivity. In the Nurses' Health Study, brisk walking for 2.5 hours per week led to a 25 percent reduction in diabetes risk.

For women who already have diabetes, exercise may reduce the risk of death from a heart disease-related event.

A European study involving 5,859 participants found that walking two to 4.5 hours per week led to a 46 percent reduction in heart disease deaths compared to walking less than 2 hours weekly.

According to the authors of this review, the link between physical activity and cancer is harder to define because researchers have not identified a clear pathway between exercise and cancer.

A review of 73 studies found that the most active women had a 25 percent reduction in breast cancer risk compared to the least active women.

The authors noted that the role of exercise in prevention of ovarian cancer is unclear.

Exercise seems to be effective in promoting bone health and preventing fractures, according to an analysis of 13 studies.

Women who reported moderate to vigorous exercise were 38 percent less likely to fracture a hip than women who were inactive.

The authors of this review concluded that performing 30 minutes per day of exercise could reduce the risk of many chronic health conditions.

They noted that, in some of the studies, exercise improved health prospects even in the absence of weight loss.

These authors called for more research on interventions to promote physical activity.

The review was published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine on January 8.

The authors did not disclose funding information or conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
January 13, 2014
Last Updated:
January 27, 2014