Sedentary Postmenopausal Women Have Higher Heart Failure Risk

Heidi Splete

November 25, 2020

The more time older women spent sitting or lying down, the more likely their risk of hospitalization for heart failure, based on data from more than 80,000 postmenopausal women.

The 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines show evidence of the impact of physical activity on reducing heart failure risk, but the association between activity, sedentary behavior (SB) and heart failure (HF) in older women in particular has not been well studied, wrote Michael J. LaMonte, PhD, MPH, of the State University of New York at Buffalo, and colleagues in a study published in Circulation: Heart Failure. "Given the high prevalence of prolonged sedentary time among U.S. adults aged 65 and older, among whom HF burden is substantial, understanding the role SB has in HF development is relevant to future HF prevention strategies," the researchers wrote.

The researchers identified 80,982 women aged 50-79 years who were enrolled in the Women's Health Initiative Observational Study, had no known HF, and could walk at least one block unassisted. The average follow-up period was 9 years, and a total of 1,402 women were hospitalized for heart failure during the period of time they were observed.

The time spent sedentary (combined sitting or lying down) was divided into tertiles of 6.5 hours or less, 6.6-9.5 hours, and more than 9.5 hours. Time spent sitting was divided into tertiles of 4.5 hours or less; 4.6-8.5 hours; and more than 8.5 hours.

Heart Failure Risk Goes Up With More Down Time

After controlling for multiple variables including age, race, education, income, smoking status alcohol use, menopausal hormone therapy, and hysterectomy status, the researchers found that patients in the second tertile for sedentary behavior had a significantly increased heart failure risk than patients in the first tertile for sedentary behavior. This risk was even greater for patients falling in the third tertile for sedentary behavior. Odds ratios were 1.00 (referent), 1.15, and 1.42 for the lowest to highest tertiles for total sedentary behavior, respectively, and 1.00 (referent), 1.14, and 1.54 for sitting (P < .001 for both total sedentary behavior and sitting only).

The trends remained significant after controlling for comorbidities including MI and coronary revascularization, and the associations were similar among categories of women with additional HF risk factors, including body mass index, diabetes, hypertension, and coronary heart disease.

Notably, the association between hours spent sitting or lying down and HF risk persisted even in women who met recommended activity levels, the researchers wrote.

The study findings were limited by the use of self-reports and by the inability to evaluate SB patterns or SB and HF subtypes, the researchers noted. However, the results were strengthened by the large sample size, use of time-varying SB exposure, and extensive controlling, and the data support the risk of increased SB on adverse cardiovascular outcomes.

"Results of this study underscore the need for effective strategies to reduce daily SB time, in addition to increasing recreational physical activity, as part of population efforts for HF prevention," they concluded.

Clinicians know the value of a physically active lifestyle for heart health, said lead author LaMonte in a statement accompanying the study's release. "However, our study clearly shows that we also need to increase efforts to reduce daily sedentary time and encourage adults to frequently interrupt their sedentary time. This does not necessarily require an extended bout of physical activity; it might simply be standing up for 5 minutes or standing and moving one's feet in place.

"We do not have sufficient evidence on the best approach to recommend for interrupting sedentary time. However, accumulating data suggest that habitual activities such as steps taken during household and other activities of daily living are an important aspect of cardiovascular disease prevention and healthy aging," LaMonte added.

Promote More Movement and Less Sitting

"This is the first study to assess sedentary time and the risk for incident heart failure hospitalization in postmenopausal women," said Robert H. Hopkins Jr., MD, of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Little Rock, in an interview.

"Heart failure is the cause of approximately 35% of cardiovascular mortalities in women, and sedentary behaviors are common in older adults," he noted.

Kashif J. Piracha, MD, of Houston Methodist Willowbrook Hospital, agreed that there is a lack of existing data looking at the relationship between sedentary behavior and the risk of the development of heart failure in postmenopausal women. In an interview, he cited this as a reason "it was important to conduct this study."

Hopkins added that he was not surprised by the study results "There are a number of studies which have demonstrated reduction in risk for heart failure in men and in combined populations of men and women with increased physical activity." There are fewer data (but similar outcomes) in studies of men with increased levels of sedentary behaviors, he said.

"This study adds one more reason that other clinicians in primary care and me need to encourage our older patients to get up and move," said Hopkins, who also serves on the editorial advisory board of Internal Medicine News. "Many of us have focused our efforts in the past on achieving exercise goals and this study provides a foundation for a recommendation that 'it is not just about exercise'; we need to also encourage our patients to minimize their time in sedentary pursuits in addition to exercise if we are to optimize their health into older age."

Hopkins noted that the large size of the study was a strength, but the observational design and use of patient surveys were limitations.

"We need further studies to better tease out whether there are risk differences in different sedentary behavior patterns, whether this applies across heart failure with reduced ejection fraction versus heart failure with preserved ejection fraction, and whether there are additional ways we can mitigate these risks as our society ages," he said.

Findings Differ From California Men's Health Study's

"The results corroborate the fact that there is less risk of heart failure in physically active patients," Piracha noted.

The message for clinicians is to encourage postmenopausal female patients to engage in physical activity as much as possible, said Piracha. "Also, it appears that in this population, even with good physical activity, prolonged sedentary behavior of more than 8.5 hours a day was still associated with a higher risk of incident HF hospitalization. Therefore, a case can be made to focus on carrying out physical activity with an intensity that can be sustained for longer, rather than shorter periods of time."

Notably, the finding of increased HF hospitalization in women who reported high amounts of physical activity but were still sedentary for more than 8.5 hours a day "is contrary to what was seen in the California Men's Health Study." In that study, "men with high physical activity levels who also had prolonged sitting time did not have increased risk of HF hospitalization," Piracha noted. "Further research is needed to elucidate what hormonal or other factors contribute to this difference."

The new study was supported by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. The researchers had no financial conflicts to disclose. Hopkins and Piracha had no financial conflicts to disclose.

SOURCE: LaMonte MJ et al. Circ Heart Fail. 2020 Nov 24. doi: 10.1161/CIRCHEARTFAILURE.120.007508.

This article originally appeared on, part of the Medscape Professional Network.


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