Physical Activity Lowers Heart Disease Risk

Middle-aged women who moved around more had less fat around vital organs, study finds

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HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, June 1, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- New research suggests that middle-aged women who move around more in their daily life have lower levels of intra-abdominal fat, a risk factor for heart disease.

"A minor modification to your weekly activity, such as reducing the time you watch TV or increasing the time you walk to work or school, can make a difference in your long-term health," said study author Dr. Sheila Dugan, a physiatrist at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. The results held true for both white and black women.

"Focusing on visceral fat has become a real hot topic because of metabolic syndrome [which predisposes people to disease], and part of what leads us to diagnose metabolic syndrome is visceral fat content," said Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, director of women and heart disease at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. "Here, they're targeting one of the highest risk factors which causes metabolic syndrome, which is one of greatest reasons to develop coronary artery disease. Not only does exercise help condition your heart, but it helps to decrease this risk of visceral fat, which is huge."

Dugan is expected to present her findings in New Orleans on Friday at the American College of Sports Medicine annual meeting.

Intra-abdominal fat, or the fat that wraps around the organs in the abdomen and chest, tends to accumulate at midlife and can contribute to developing diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.

"Separately, the fat around the organs is known to be more related to heart disease and diabetes and other things that can cause long-term chronic problems," Dugan confirmed.

And a woman does not need to appear outwardly heavy to have a potentially troublesome extra "tire" around her organs.

Previous studies have found that exercise can reduce the amount of intra-abdominal fat a woman carries around.

Rush and her colleagues looked at physical activity levels and intra-abdominal fat measurements of 338 Chicago women. Participants filled out surveys indicating how much physical activity, including housework, they engaged in each week and month, and each received a score reflecting that activity. This score was correlated with their levels of intra-abdominal fat.

Intra-abdominal fat was measured by CT scan, which, said Dugan, is the "gold standard measurement."

"Those with a higher physical activity score had lower intra-abdominal fat," Dugan said. "Just being more physically active in your life will have a positive impact on your body, which will have a positive impact on your health."

More information

The American Heart Association has more on ways to increase physical activity levels.

SOURCES: Sheila Dugan, M.D., physiatrist, Rush University Medical Center, Chicago; Suzanne Steinbaum, M.D., director, women and heart disease, Lenox Hill Hospital, New York City; June 1, 2007, presentation, American College of Sports Medicine annual meeting, New Orleans

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