Women: Worried about heart failure? Walk it off.

I’ve shared a fair amount of menopause research recently. Like the study showing vitamin D fights postmenopausal metabolic syndrome.

And the one that highlighted how eating a Mediterranean-style diet can help preserve muscle mass and bone density in the face of age-related hormonal changes.

And just this past Monday, I shared research showing that avoiding simple carbs and filling up on fish oil can keep menopause from arriving ahead of schedule.

All of this is great news. But there’s one more study I want to share today.

And its findings serve as a critical, lifesaving message to older women everywhere.

This study looked at data from the Women’s Health Initiative. With a specific focus on the walking habits — including frequency, duration, and speed — and health outcomes of nearly 90,000 women. Data on participants was collected and analyzed for more than a decade. More importantly, this study sought to look at how these habits affect heart failure risk among women over 50.

All the women featured in this study were between 50 and 79 years old when the study started — without a history of heart failure, heart disease, or cancer. And all of them were able to walk at least one block.

Researchers used the data collected to calculate subjects’ weekly metabolic equivalent of task (MET) — a number that represents the overall energy expended during the course of the week. And, truth be told, the results weren’t exactly shocking:

  • Women with the highest weekly MET scores were a quarter less likely to wind up with heart failure compared to women with the lowest MET scores.
  • Women who walked at least twice a week also benefited from a 20 to 25 percent lower risk of heart failure.
  • Women who walked for at least 40 minutes at a time also saw a 20 to 25 percent reduction in heart failure risk.

But perhaps the most interesting finding had to do with pace. The women who kept an average or fast pace on their walks had up to 38 percent lower risk of heart failure compared to women who walked slower. (Don’t worry — we’re not talking a grueling hike or speed walking, here. Just tack on a few minutes to your evening stroll and pick up the pace a bit. That’s really all it takes.)

What’s more, these benefits were consistent across all ages, ethnicities, and even body weights — which means that pretty much any woman over 50 can expect the same results.

I probably don’t have to remind you why that’s so important. But I will: Risk of heart failure rises dramatically as women age. And by the time you hit 75, your risk triples!

But as these results show, a simple walk can and does make a profound difference.