Women who can exercise vigorously are at significantly lower risk of dying from heart disease, cancer and other causes, scientists have found.
Study author Dr Jesús Peteiro, of University Hospital A Coruña, Spain, says that women should “exercise as much as they can. Fitness protects against death from any cause.”
The study monitored 4,714 middle-aged women, with an average age of 64, who were suspected of having/known to have coronary artery disease from 1994-2014. The women’s fitness levels were examined once by a workout on the treadmill. Images of their heart were then taken as they gradually increasing their intensity until exhaustion.
For the study, fitness was defined as a maximal workload of 10 metabolic equivalents (METs). Light activities (standing, walking slowly) use less than three METs, moderate-intensity activities (brisk walking) use three to six METs, and vigorous-intensity activities (jogging, playing football) use more than six METs. Women who achieved 10 METs or more (good exercise capacity) were then compared to those achieving less than 10 METs (poor exercise capacity).
The scientists found that the annual rate of death from cardiovascular disease was nearly four times higher in women with poor, compared to good, exercise capacity (2.2% versus 0.6%); annual cancer deaths were doubled in patients with poor, compared to good, exercise capacity (0.9% versus 0.4%); and the annual rate of death from other causes was more than four times higher in those with poor, compared to good, exercise capacity (1.4% vs. 0.3%).
“Good exercise capacity predicted lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease, cancer, and other causes,” says Dr Peteiro. “Looking at both examinations together, women whose heart works normally during exercise are unlikely to have a cardiovascular event. But if their exercise capacity is poor, they’re still at risk of death from cancer or other causes. The best situation is to have normal heart performance during exercise and good exercise capacity.”