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The Healthy Heart Handbook for Women

Major Risk Factors for Heart Disease

Physical Inactivity
Physical inactivity raises your risk of heart disease—more than you might think. It boosts your chances of developing heart-related problems even if you have no other risk factors. It also increases the likelihood that you will develop other heart disease risk factors, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and overweight. Lack of physical activity leads to more doctor visits, more hospitalizations, and use of medicines for a variety of illnesses.

Yet most women aren't getting enough physical activity. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 60 percent of Americans are not meeting the recommended levels of physical activity. Fully 16 percent of Americans are not active at all. Overall, older people are less likely to be active than younger individuals, and women tend to be less physically active than men. Physical inactivity is especially common among African American and Hispanic women.

For women, physical inactivity also increases the risk of osteoporosis, which in turn may increase the risk of broken bones. This is worrisome, because women tend to become less physically active as they get older.

Fortunately, research shows that as little as 30 minutes of moderate activity on most, and preferably all, days of the week helps to protect your health. This level of activity can reduce your risk of heart disease as well as lower your chances of having a stroke, colon cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, and other medical problems.

Examples of moderate activity are taking a brisk walk, raking leaves, dancing, light weightlifting, house cleaning, or gardening. If you prefer, you can divide your 30-minute activity into shorter periods of at least 10 minutes each. To find out about easy, enjoyable ways to boost your activity level, see "Learn New Moves".

Table of Contents Next: Diabetes

Last Updated: February 29, 2012

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