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Aug 19, 2022
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Pregnancy may affect the risk of cardiovascular disease in women

Pregnancy may affect the risk of cardiovascular disease in women

Women in their 20s, 30s, and 40s develop a much faster risk of cardiovascular disease than men. West Virginia University epidemiologist Bethany Barone Gibbs is studying how adverse pregnancy outcomes such as preeclampsia and gestational diabetes play a role in these inequalities, and whether physical activity can reduce or eliminate these inequalities.

“People always think that men have more cardiovascular disease than women,” Gibbs says. “But the fact is that before childbearing age, women tend to have fewer risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Then, between the ages of 20 and 40, they have an accelerated development of risk. The frequency of hypertension and other risk factors in women increases compared with men, so they sort of catch up with them. We think that at least part of this may be due to the effects of pregnancy.”

As part of the study, more than 3,000 women will wear a special accelerometer that measures how much time they spend lying down, sitting, standing, walking or cycling. The activity tracker will be worn 24 hours a day for one week to measure cardiovascular disease risk factors such as body mass index, cholesterol, blood pressure and glucose.

Gibbs and her team will look at any associations that arise between participants’ pregnancy history, cardiovascular health, risk factors for cardiovascular disease, and sedentary behaviour.

“We think about patterns. How healthy are people who sit a lot but also exercise a lot? Are they okay? What about people who don’t exercise but don’t sit much? there will be data that will allow us to study all these relationships very carefully,” she said.

Study participants will be selected from a larger pregnancy study called NuMoM2b, or Nulliparous Pregnancy Outcomes Study Monitoring Mothers-to-Be. All of the women who participated in NuMoM2b were pregnant for the first time.

Gibbs and her team will be able to build a more complete portrait of how sedentary lifestyles and poor pregnancy outcomes affect women’s risk of cardiovascular disease. This could help healthcare professionals assess their risk of cardiovascular disease more accurately and educate women with poor pregnancy outcomes about the need for physical activity.

“What we’re doing is trying to understand whether therapeutic lifestyle interventions to reduce sedentary behavior, increase physical activity, or both, can help reduce risk in women in general, but especially in women who are at increased risk of because of the pregnancy history,” Gibbs says.

A sedentary lifestyle is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease that is distinct from insufficient physical activity. If you spend 12 waking hours sitting at your desk, on your couch, or in your car, you won’t be able to “beat” those long sitting hours with a half-hour run.

“In people who sit for a long time, even in healthy people, there is a negative cardiovascular cascade. Blood pools in the lower legs, blood pressure rises, and your body does not metabolize blood sugar as well.”

With that in mind, Gibbs recommends standing for at least 15 minutes every hour, taking a two-minute walk every now and then, and doing your best to lead a less sedentary lifestyle.

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