Greater Leisure Time Physical Activity Is Associated with Lower Allostatic Load in White, Black, and Mexican American Midlife Women: Findings from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1999 through 2004

BACKGROUND: Allostatic load is a useful construct to understand how social and environmental conditions get under the skin to affect health. To date, few studies have examined health-enhancing lifestyle behaviors and their potential benefits in reducing allostatic load. The purpose of this study was to investigate the contributions of leisure time physical activity on level of allostatic load among White, Black, and Mexican American midlife women. METHODS: Data were from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1999 through 2004 (n = 1,680, women ages 40-59). All analyses were weighted. Negative binomial regression was used to model a summative count measure of allostatic load (M = 2.30). Models were also computed to estimate adjusted predicted allostatic load for given levels of physical activity, and by race/ethnicity for each age category (40-44, 45-49, 50-54, 55-59), controlling for other demographics and medication use. FINDINGS: Higher levels of physical activity were associated significantly with lower levels of allostatic load, independent of demographics. Compared with White women ages 40 to 44, all other racial/ethnic-by-age groups had significantly higher allostatic load. Higher socioeconomic status was associated with a lower allostatic load. Adjusted prediction models demonstrated associations between greater levels of physical activity and lower allostatic load for all ages and racial/ethnic groups. CONCLUSIONS: Our findings suggest physical activity may ameliorate some of the effects of cumulative physiological dysregulation and subsequent disease burden in midlife women. Programs and policies that encourage and promote healthy aging and provide opportunities for a diversity of women to engage in health-enhancing lifestyle practices such as physical activity are recommended.