Women who are able to exercise with higher intensity while under heart stress test are less likely to die from heart disease, cancer, and other causes, say the authors of a new study.

  • Women with a greater exercise capability on a heart stress test had a lower risk of dying from heart disease and other conditions.
  • The study found poor exercisers were doubly likely to die from cancer and more than four times as likely to die from other causes, compared to women on a higher fitness level.
  • HIIT can be one way to help your heart even if you don’t have much time to work out.

Scotty Butcher, PhD, an associate professor of physical therapy from the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Canada, said these findings are “right in line” with other studies looking at the effect of fitness level on the risk of dying from these kinds of conditions.

It’s no brainer that exercise is good for your health, but does the new study mean that it’s necessary to take up more vigorous exercise like running, swimming laps, or kickboxing?

Not necessarily. There are many ways to increase your fitness level. Still, for some women, higher-intensity workouts can be a great option.

Exercise capacity linked to lower risk of dying

In the new study, researchers looked at two groups of women, those with good exercise capability and those with poor exercise capability.

Women with good exercise capability were able to exercise at an intensity of 10 metabolic equivalents (METs) or better during a stress echocardiogram.

MET level is a measure of how much energy burns during an activity. It’s clearly dependant on the intensity of a physical activity.

Anything over 6 METs is considered vigorous exercise. Running a 10-minute mile is about 10 METs. Mountain biking uphill is 14 METs.

Researchers reveal that women with poorer exercise capability were nearly four times more likely to die from cardiovascular disease compared to women with good exercise capacity. The same goes for cancer. The opposite effect goes to the women with higher exercise capability.

Most of the women in the study were between 50 and 75 years old. Researchers followed the women on average for about 5 years.

While the study found that having a higher exercise capacity is a good thing, the researchers didn’t look at what women did to reach that level of fitness.

So the study gives an idea of how fit the women were, but we don’t know how intensely they trained — or what physical activities they did.

Vigorous exercise safe for all ages

Although high-intensity is an interest for 20- and 30-somethings, vigorous exercise can be appropriate for any age group.

“Aging exercisers often have the potential for even greater benefits to health than their younger counterparts, mostly because they tend to be more de-conditioned,” said Butcher.

Seldeen and his colleague Dr. Bruce Troen, chief of the division of geriatric and palliative medicine in the Jacobs School at University at Buffalo, carried out research where older veterans did high-intensity interval training (HIIT) on a recumbent bicycle three times per week.

The workout sessions relied on alternating minute-long bouts of intense and less intense pedaling. The entire workout, with a 3-minute warmup, was only 10 minutes long.

Seldeen said vigorous exercise along with strength training can slow and, in some cases, reverse the loss in muscle mass that begins after age 30 and becomes more pronounced with age.

This is of greater importance to women because they are at greater risk for osteoporosis. Exercise is a key way of maintaining bone health.

“Women are more likely to be frail as they age, a condition of greater susceptibility to illnesses, falls, and disability,” said Seldeen. “Boosting muscle function and quality with exercise is the best way to stave off frailty.”

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