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Women and physical activity

It is not always easy for women to find time to exercise, but the benefits of being active are enormous, and physical activity is an essential part of a heart-healthy lifestyle. Among other benefits such as helping manage a good weight balance and reducing stress, physical activity reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD), the number one killer of women.

Aligning with the World Health Organization recommendations, the World Heart Federation encourages women to do at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity every week- just over 20 minutes a day.

Physical activity

Benefits of physical activity

Physical activity keeps your heart healthy by:

  • Significantly reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke in women
  • Reducing high blood pressure, and maintaining healthy blood pressure
  • Helping to manage a good weight balance and reducing the risk of obesity
  • Reducing cholesterol levels

And also has other benefits of:

  • Improving psychological health
  • Reducing levels of stress: physical activity is key for the head, as it is for the heart
  • Improving blood circulation
  • Giving you more energy
  • Improving your sleep
  • Protecting you against chronic illness and other diseases
  • Physical activity can also contribute to building self-esteem and confidence and can provide a vehicle for social integration and equality for women in society

How much exercise should I do?

Adult women should do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity (or a combination of the two) every week to reduce the risk of high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes.Try doing just 30 minutes a day, or 15 minutes twice a day!

Children aged 5-17 should do at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day.

Moderate physical activity

Moderate physical activity increases your heart rate, but you should still be able to talk normally. It includes brisk walking, dancing, housework and gardening.

Vigorous physical activity

Vigorous physical activity increases your heart rate a lot, making you breathe so hard that it becomes difficult to talk. It includes running, cycling, swimming and playing competitive sports.

Did you know?

  • Insufficient physical activity is the 4th leading risk factor for CVD mortality
  • 3.2 million deaths are attributable to insufficient physical activity each year across the globe
  • People who are insufficiently active have 20 – 30% increased risk of all-cause mortality
  • 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week reduces the risk of heart disease by 30% and the risk of diabetes by 27%
  • Urbanization and urban environments may discourage physical activity and encourage sedentary habits. Construction of cities must promote transport by foot and by bike rather than by car to encourage daily physical activity and cities must be built with enough safe green spaces for children’s recreational activities.

Tips to get moving

“I don’t have time to add physical activity to my day”. Does it sound familiar? Here are some tips to increase your level of physical activity even with a busy schedule.

To start with, physical activity is not confined to sport! You may already be more active than you think: physical activity also includes walking, going dancing with your partner or friends, playing with your children or even doing household chores.

  • Incorporate physical activity in your daily activities: try to walk as much as possible and always climb the stairs! If you use a car, try parking slightly ahead of your destination. When taking the bus or the train, consider getting off a few stops earlier than you usually do.
  • Walking is a simple and cost-effective way to start a fitness journey: simply walking for as few as 30 minutes a day provides heart health benefits: it can already cut your heart disease risk by 50 per cent. Walking is enjoyable, free, social and great exercise.

Focus on physical activities that are…

  • …fun: There are plenty of options to enjoy physical activity. Join a sports team, take a yoga class with a neighbour, take a walk during lunch with a co-worker or play football in the park with your children
  • …social: Enlist a friend or family member. Many people agree that having an “exercise buddy” or being part of a team keeps them going.
  • … easy: you are more likely to exercise if it’s easy to do – and there are plenty of options. Start small and gradually increase the duration and the intensity progressively.

Women and physical activity: a gendered issue

Despite the fact that one in three women will die from cardiovascular disease, many women don’t know they are at risk and fail to take action to protect their heart. Being more active could be a good place to start!

Women are usually less physically active than their male counterparts. Several factors hinder the participation of women in physical activity, but they are not a fatality:

  • Busy schedule… Many women struggle to find time to exercise, as they often have to manage most of the domestic work. Try to fit a moment of physical activity during the day: walk to pick up children from school, sign up for a class at lunch time, go play outside with your family
  • Money… Women tend to have a lower income, and the cost of access to physical activity can be a barrier. There are plenty of options to be active at no costs, starting with walking
  • Representations… cultural expectations may restrict the participation of women in certain forms of physical activity. Even if your environment prevents you from participating in a specific sport, there is often other options to explore. And you may also be the one starting a trend: while many women still don’t imagine playing football, it is now the number one sport for women in the United Kingdom.

Football and women

Football used to be associated to men, but there are now approximately 1.2 million registered female players in Europe, which makes football the number one team sport for girls and women across the continent.Why not you?

Football is considered to be one of the highest-intensity cardio sports as it requires constant motion. By getting the heart pumping at a faster rate on a regular basis, you will keep it in shape and healthy. It is also fun and accessible – you can join a proper football team, but also enjoy an occasional match with your friends and children.

For World Heart Day 2014, we encouraged women to try and pop up a football pitch – an easy way to get active and do something for your heart.

Learn more about the Make a healthy heart your goal campaign, encouraging women to be active and play football to protect their heart from cardiovascular disease