Physical activity can protect overweight women from risk for heart disease

May 20, 2014, Albert Einstein College of Medicine

For otherwise healthy middle-aged women who are overweight or obese, physical activity may be their best option for avoiding heart disease, according to a study that followed nearly 900 women for seven years. These findings were reported in a paper led by authors at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University and Montefiore Medical Center, the University Hospital for Einstein, and published today in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

"Being overweight or obese increases a person's risk for developing conditions such as hypertension, elevated triglyceride levels and elevated fasting glucose levels—all of them risk factors for heart disease, the leading cause of death in the U.S.," said lead author Unab Khan, M.B.B.S.,M.S. ), assistant professor of pediatrics and of family and social medicine at Einstein and attending physician, pediatrics at Montefiore. "With about two out of every three American women overweight or obese, we need to find practical ways to keep them healthier, longer."

The authors identified 866 overweight and obese women, aged 42 to 52 who were enrolled in the Study of Women's Health Across the Nation/, or SWAN, a multicenter, multiethnic study designed to examine the health of women during their middle years. The women studied were categorized as "metabolically benign overweight/obese." That means they had at most one risk factor for heart disease and therefore were at a lower risk for developing the disease. The study's main goal was to identify factors that may influence these women to fall into the "at-risk overweight/obese" category, i.e., at high risk of developing heart disease—as well as factors that would help women avoid the high-risk category.

Throughout the seven-year study, the women were tested annually for heart disease risk factors. They also completed an annual survey describing their physical activity for the prior 12 months, which ranged from active living, caregiving and doing household chores to exercise and sports.

During the seven years, 373 of the participants—43 percent of the total—had progressed from having at most a single risk factor for heart disease (i.e., metabolically benign overweight/obese) to at-risk overweight/obese, meaning they had developed two or more of the following five heart-disease risk factors: hypertension; low blood level of HDL ("good") cholesterol; elevated blood levels of triglycerides, elevated fasting glucose level (indicating pre-diabetes or diabetes); and elevated levels of C-reactive protein ( indicating inflammation).

Low-to-moderate physical activity—at the start of the study and during it—was the only lifestyle factor found to protect overweight/obese women from becoming at-risk for heart disease. More specifically, women who participated in physical activity during the study were 16 percent less likely to become at-risk for heart disease compared with women who were not physically active.

The researchers also identified several "triggers" that predisposed women to become at-risk for heart disease:

  • Women who had elevated fasting glucose levels or took antidiabetic drugs at the start of the study were more than three times as likely to become at-risk for heart disease compared with women who had normal fasting glucose levels when the study began.
  • Women who had hypertension at the start of the study were three times more likely to fall into the at-risk group compared with women who were not hypertensive at the start of the study.
  • Women who gained weight during the study were 16 percent more likely to become at-risk for heart disease compared with women who did not gain weight.

"A large number of women who began the study— more than 40 percent of them— were no longer heart-healthy by the end of it," said Dr. Khan. "But our study does demonstrate the important role that physical activity can play in protecting overweight or obese women from becoming at-risk for heart disease. Our findings suggest that physical activity may be able to prevent overweight women from developing heart disease even if they have risk factors for the disease."

The study is titled "Progression from Metabolically Benign to At-risk Obesity in Perimenopausal Women: A Longitudinal Analysis of Study of Women Across the Nation (SWAN)." Dan Wang, M.S., of Einstein was also an author of the study. Other authors were Carrie A. Karvonen-Gutierrez, M.P.H., Ph.D., and Kelly R. Ylitalo of the University of Michigan School of Public Health; Naila Khalil, M.B.B.S., M.P.H., Ph.D., of Wright State University; and senior author Nanette Santoro, M.D., of the University of Colorado-Denver School of Medicine.

Explore further: Low inflammation may explain healthy metabolic status in some obese people

More information: The study, "Progression from Metabolically Benign to At-risk Obesity in Perimenopausal Women: A Longitudinal Analysis of Study of Women Across the Nation (SWAN)," was published online, ahead of print.

Related Stories

Low inflammation may explain healthy metabolic status in some obese people

August 27, 2013
Reduced levels of inflammation may explain how some obese people are able to remain metabolically healthy, according to a recent study accepted for publication in The Endocrine Society's Journal of Clinical Endocrinology ...

Metabolically healthy obesity does not guarantee clean bill of health

November 20, 2013
Obese people who are currently metabolically healthy face a higher risk of developing diabetes and cardiovascular disease, according to new research accepted for publication in The Endocrine Society's Journal of Clinical ...

Metabolically healthy women have same CVD risk regardless of BMI

September 2, 2013
Metabolically healthy women have the same cardiovascular disease risk regardless of their BMI, according to research presented at the ESC Congress today by Dr Søren Skøtt Andersen and Dr Michelle Schmiegelow from Denmark. ...

Study challenges concept of 'healthy' obesity

April 30, 2014
Obese individuals who have no signs of cardiovascular disease show a much higher prevalence of early plaque buildup in the arteries compared to healthy normal weight individuals, according to a study published today in the ...

'Healthy obesity' is a myth, report says

December 2, 2013
(HealthDay)—The notion that some people can be overweight or obese and still remain healthy is a myth, according to a new Canadian study.

Lowering blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar could halve obesity-related risk of heart disease

November 21, 2013
Controlling blood pressure, serum cholesterol, and blood glucose may substantially reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke associated with being overweight or obese, according to a study from a worldwide research consortium ...

Recommended for you

Evening hours may pose higher risk for overeating, especially when under stress, study finds

January 16, 2018
Experiments with a small group of overweight men and women have added to evidence that "hunger hormone" levels rise and "satiety (or fullness) hormone" levels decrease in the evening. The findings also suggest that stress ...

Bariatric surgery prolongs lifespan in obese

January 16, 2018
Obese, middle-age men and women who had bariatric surgery have half the death rate of those who had traditional medical treatment over a 10-year period, reports a study that answers questions about the long-term risk of the ...

Sugar-sweetened drinks linked to overweight and obesity in children, adults: Analysis of new studies

December 23, 2017
A new review of the latest evidence on sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs)- which includes 30 new studies published between 2013 and 2015 (and none of them industry sponsored) - concludes that SSB consumption is associated with ...

As income rises, women get slimmer—but not men

December 21, 2017
(HealthDay)—A comprehensive survey on the widening American waistline finds that as paychecks get bigger, women's average weight tends to drop.

Policy and early intervention can curb obesity rates

December 18, 2017
More information and emphasis on dietary lifestyle changes that prevent obesity, and its comorbidities, have not reduced the rise in obesity in U.S. adults and adolescents, according to a recent study in the New England Journal ...

Warning labels can help reduce soda consumption and obesity, new study suggests

December 15, 2017
Labels that warn people about the risks of drinking soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages can lower obesity and overweight prevalence, suggests a new Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health study.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.