A brisk stroll just once a week could cut older women's risk of heart failure by a third, new research has suggested.
Those who walked at an average or fast pace were 27 and 34% less likely to develop the condition, respectively, in comparison to postmenopausal peers who took a more casual stroll.
The study, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, by scientists at Brown University, tracked the health of more than 25,000 individuals aged 50 to 79 for an average of around 17 years, who self reported their walking speed.
Women who claimed to walk at an 'average' pace — between 2-3mph — were 27% less likely to suffer heart failure than 'casual' walkers, classed as less than 2mph.
And speedy female walkers, who pounded the pavement at over 3mph, saw a 34% lower risk.
What's more, the health benefits of speedy steps were identified in participants who managed less than one hour a week.
They received the same risk reduction as moving at average or casual speed for over twice that period.
Researchers said fast walkers may be fitter and benefit from better cardiovascular health, lowering the risk.
Alternatively the findings could be attributed to a muscle-mass reducing condition that has been linked with walking at a slow pace and heart failure.
Senior author, Professor Charles Eaton, of Brown University, Rhode Island, said the findings show walking pace can be a marker of heart health.
"This study confirms other studies demonstrating the importance of walking speed on mortality and other cardiovascular outcomes," he said.
"Given that limited time for exercise is frequently given as a barrier to regular physical activity, walking faster but for less time might provide similar health benefits as the recommended 150 minutes per week of moderate physical activity."
In the UK, heart failure affects about 900,000 people with 60,000 new cases annually.
It mainly affects older people, and can cause breathlessness and fatigue, often severely impairing quality of life.
The number of cases is predicted to soar in the coming decades owing to the growing and ageing population.
"We still lack data defining the optimal lifestyle interventions to prevent heart failure," Professor Eaton continues.
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While physical activity is known to be protective, the role of specific types of exercise is still unclear.
"Walking, which essentially does not require any equipment, is the most common, especially for women and older adults," he adds.
Professor Eaton says walking has been shown to lower death rates, in particular from diseases of the heart and circulatory system.
"A few studies have evaluated walking pace independent of walking duration and found those with a faster walking pace had a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality," he says.
Fast walking for less than an hour every week was associated with the same risk reduction as walking at a normal or slow pace for two hours per week.
The researchers said if a fast pace is "physically out of reach" for some women, achieving an average pace and attending walking classes "may be helpful for them".
As the study was observational, study authors noted other medical or lifestyle factors could be behind the lower heart failure rates.
And it is not clear if encouraging older women to increase their walking pace on its own will reduce the risk, as other factors could also play an important role.
However, the team cited an earlier UK study of 27,000 women, which found fast walkers were 20% less likely to suffer from heart disease than slow walkers, which seems to support the most recent findings.
According to the NHS, walking is one of the easiest ways to get more active, lose weight and become healthier.
While it is sometimes overlooked as a form of exercise, walking briskly can help you build stamina, burn excess calories and make your heart healthier.
And as suggested in the above study, you do not have to walk for hours.
A brisk 10-minute daily walk has lots of health benefits and counts towards your recommended 150 minutes of weekly exercise.
Additional reporting SWNS.