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Counseling Older Latinas Improves Heart Health, Researchers Find

12-week intervention program in San Diego motivates women to get moving

A woman jogging on a trail

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En español | Targeted counseling can be effective in getting older Latinas to take steps — literally — to improve their heart health, according to researchers at San Diego State University.

In a study involving more than 250 overweight, sedentary Latinas with an average age of 64, the researchers found greater progress among women participating in a 12-week intervention program focused on making lifestyle changes to improve cardiovascular health than among women who received written advice but did not get intensified counseling.

"We provided cultural tailoring for the program, adapting an English version of the protocol into Spanish with changes that reflect Latina lifestyles, such as incorporating standing time while completing household chores,” study author Gregory Talavera, M.D., a professor of psychology at the California university, said in a statement. “This program can be done in the home and could benefit women who are unable to participate in traditional physical activity."

At the start of the study, participants spent an average of nine hours a day sitting. Women who participated in the 12-week intervention program reduced that daily sitting time by 71 minutes. Women who did not get counseling cut their sitting time by less than eight minutes daily.

Participants who received counseling stood up 50 minutes longer — and walked 13 minutes longer — each day, on average. Those who did not get the intervention increased their daily standing time by an average of 2.5 minutes daily and steps by five minutes.

A little stroll can mean a lot

Low-intensity walks appear to have the same benefits as power walks, according to a study from the National Institutes of Health that was published in March.

Certainly, 12,000 steps a day is better than 4,000. The average number of steps daily for the U.S. population is between 4,000 and 5,000, but inactive people may get 2,000 steps or fewer.

Just moving more throughout the day is key. It reduces your risk of falls and premature death.

"I think this is incredibly difficult in the time we're living in now with the pandemic, because you may be sitting with your children to do homework, or you may be working from home on your laptop and communicating back and forth to your place of work,” says Ileana L. Piña, M.D., a professor of medicine at Wayne State University in Detroit who is not affiliated with the study. She is on the board of the American Heart Association.

"I have a friend who has a timer. And he sets the timer for X number of minutes. And when he has been sitting for X number of minutes, he stands up and he walks around the room. If you live in a home that has two stories, going up and down stairs is a wonderful exercise,” Piña says. “Or set some music, especially for the Hispanics. We love to dance. Music is in our hearts; it's in our souls. Play some songs that really make you want to dance, and you'll move."

In general, Hispanic women are less likely to die of heart disease than non-Hispanic white women, according to 2017 data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Their death rate from heart disease was 90.1 instances per 100,000 people, compared with 131.9 for non-Hispanic white women.

However, Hispanic women 20 and older are more likely to be overweight or obese than their non-Hispanic white counterparts — more than three-quarters versus about two-thirds of non-Hispanic white women, according to the CDC. And excess weight increases the risk for heart disease and strokes, as well as for more than a half-dozen other health problems, including type 2 diabetes.

“Play some songs that really make you want to dance, and you'll move.”

— Ileana L. Piña, M.D., Wayne State University

The San Diego 12-week intervention program included eight meetings (five by phone, two in person, and one in the home) with counselors, who offered advice on how to overcome common barriers to standing, such as lower extremity pain because of arthritis. They also provided tools to encourage standing, such as timers worn on the wrist to remind the participants to get out of their chairs.

"These were older women with a number of health conditions that affected their ability to participate in traditional physical activities, so we were very surprised by how large of an improvement the intervention group demonstrated after only 12 weeks,” Talavera said.

The study is being presented this week at a virtual meeting of the American Heart Association.

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