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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University March 22, 2004 | Vol. 33 No. 27
Exercise Prescriptions May Significantly Reduce Coronary Disease Risk

By Joanna Downer
Johns Hopkins Medicine

Doctors should dole out prescriptions for frequent moderate-level physical activity to women at risk for developing atherosclerosis, thickening of the artery walls, according to a study by Johns Hopkins researchers. The study shows that women who are at risk for this disease are far less likely to develop it if they walk briskly for 30 minutes or more, two to three times a week.

"At a time when health care is becoming dominated by expensive technologies and medicine, the provider community should not lose sight of the benefits of promoting exercise and healthy lifestyle patterns," said Khurram Nasir, a Johns Hopkins research fellow who presented the research March 8 during the American College of Cardiology's annual meeting. "Providing simple exercise prescriptions to patients should be a routine part of any health maintenance program."

While exercise has been shown to be effective in reducing atherosclerosis in men, the impact of exercise on this disease in women has been unclear. Johns Hopkins researchers thus studied 1,801 asymptomatic women who had risk factors for atherosclerosis, including a family history, hypertension, diabetes, or obesity. Participants were classified as participating in no activity, or low or high levels of moderate physical activity, such as brisk walking, running or other recreational activity. Low levels were classified as less than 30 minutes, two to three times per week. High levels were defined as 30 minutes or more, two to three times per week. The researchers then measured levels of coronary artery calcification, a marker for the disease, and analyzed them with respect to exercise.

After controlling for other CHD risk factors, doctors found that women who were 65 or older had almost 50 percent less calcification if they fell into the high category, compared to those who fell into the low category or didn't exercise at all. Women 45 to 64 years of age who engaged in high levels of moderate activity had 33 percent less calcification than women of the same age who exercised less or not at all. "This study provides further evidence on the cardiovascular benefits of adhering to an active lifestyle," Nasir said. "Unfortunately, few people follow this simple advice." He said doctors need to recommend aggressively frequent exercise to patients.

Other Johns Hopkins collaborators were Rinky Bhatia, Milind Desai, Joel Braunstein, Wendy Post and Roger Blumenthal. Also participating were John Rumberger, Ohio State University, and Matthew Budoff, Saint John's Cardiovascular Research Center, Torrance, Calif.


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