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Circulation. 1992 Apr;85(4):1265-70.

Can physical activity mitigate the effects of aging in middle-aged women?

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh, PA 15213.



Aging is associated with an increased risk of women dying from coronary heart disease as well as from all causes combined. Alterations in the major biological risk factors for early coronary heart disease and all-cause mortality are frequently seen in aging.


The present investigation tested the hypothesis that high levels of physical activity could protect against age-associated changes in biological risk factor levels. In the Healthy Women Study, 507 women were evaluated at study entry and 3 years later. Weekly physical activity level was measured at each examination via the Paffenbarger Physical Activity Questionnaire. During the 3-year period, women increased significantly in weight, blood pressure, levels of total and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, triglycerides, and insulin and decreased significantly in levels of total high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C) and HDL2-C.


Consistent with the study hypothesis, women who reported higher levels of activity at baseline had less weight gain over time. Furthermore, women who increased their activity during the 3-year interval had the smallest increases in weight and tended to have the smallest decreases in total HDL-C and HDL2-C. The changes in lipids due to activity were largely independent of changes in body weight.

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