According to a new statement from the American Heart Association, increasing physical activity levels, such as implementing a brisk 20-minute walk every day may help reduce heart health disparities in populations with high cardiovascular disease risk. The statement was published in Circulation.
Physical activity is a modifiable target that can improve cardiovascular health. However, some underserved groups—such as individuals in rural areas, those with lower socioeconomic status, and adults who are older, female, or Black or have depression or disabilities—may have lower activity levels or face barriers to increasing activity.
“Unfortunately, many groups that have a higher risk of developing heart disease also on average, report lower amounts of physical activity,” statement co-author Gerald J. Jerome, PhD, said. “There is good news since some programs are focused on collaborating with communities to increase physical activity levels among high-risk groups.”
In addition to identifying populations with lower activity levels, the Circulation article highlighted several attributes of successful programs that increase physical activity in underserved groups. For example, programs looking to heighten a population’s activity level should seek out community input and engagement, which can help organizers identify and address specific barriers community members face.
Community input can also help identify the specific needs of a population. Further, community engagement in designing, implementing, and evaluating these programs can empower residents to participate and ensure that programs are culturally appropriate.
Barriers to success in programs designed to improve physical activity include cost, issues with access, lack of time, knowledge levels, and other community-specific barriers. The article recommended a “team approach” in program implementation, such as including health care professionals to help assess the program’s efficacy and promote effective activities.
Finally, the article acknowledged that improving physical activity levels alone will not address systemic issues contributing to health inequity. “Although addressing low physical activity levels will not address the underlying structural inequities that deserve attention, promoting physical activity among adults, especially those with both low physical activity levels and poor cardiovascular health, is a promising and underused strategy to reduce cardiovascular health inequalities,” the co-authors wrote.