Heart disease is the leading cause of death in U.S. adult women and certain risk factors like excess weight, smoking and high blood pressure are known to increase lifetime risk of developing it. But now, new research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine suggests that, from age 30, physical inactivity has the biggest impact on this risk in women.
Researchers used data from the 32,254 participants in the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health, which tracks the long-term health of women born in certain spans of time between 1921 and 1978.
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), more than one in three women in the US is living with cardiovascular disease (CVD); this includes nearly 50% of all African-American women and 34% of white women.
For this latest study, the researchers wanted to compare estimates of the main four risk factors of heart disease: high body mass index (BMI), smoking, high blood pressure, and physical inactivity.
They employed a mathematical formula used to assess the proportion of disease in a specific population that would vanish if exposure to a certain risk factor were removed. More than any other risk factor, low physical activity levels are to blame for the development of heart disease for the women in the study.
Data from the Global Burden of Disease study was also used and applied to the Australian women who took part in the study.
The investigators observed that smoking prevalence fell from 28% in women 22-27 years old to 5% in those between the ages of 73 and 78.
However, inactivity prevalence and high blood pressure increased across their lifespans, from age 22 to 90, and overweight prevalence increased between the ages of 22 and 64, declining after those ages.