New research suggests that a woman’s level of physical activity is a better sign than body weight of existing coronary artery disease and future heart problems. The study, which appeared in the September 8 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (2004; 292 , 1179–87), examined 906 women who had chest pain, suspected narrowing of the coronary arteries, or both. Researchers calculated each woman’s body mass index (BMI), and patients were categorized as normal weight, overweight or obese. In addition, the women answered a questionnaire that assessed their physical activity levels and abilities.
In all, 76% of the participants were classified as overweight and 41% of those as obese. Low physical activity levels were reported by 70% of the women. The researchers detected no difference in the presence or severity of disease for women in different weight categories. However, a significant association emerged between low physical activity level and the existence of obstructive coronary artery disease.
Researchers concluded that low physical activity was a good indicator of future heart problems. Women who were at least moderately active had a lower risk of adverse cardiovascular events than women with a low physical activity level, no matter which weight category they were in.