Older Adults can Dramatically Cut CVD Risk with Moderate Activity
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New research shows older adults who do moderate physical activity dramatically cut their risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.

Older Adults can Dramatically Cut CVD Risk with Moderate Activity

By WLR Staff

Research presented at European Society of Cardiology Congress in August 2016 showed that moderate physical activity is associated with a greater than 50% reduction in cardiovascular death in over-65s.

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the term use to categorise diseases connected to the heart and vascular system such as coronary heart disease and stroke.

The study, involving nearly 2500 adults aged 65 to 74 years over a 12-year period, found that:

  • Moderate physical activity reduced the risk of an acute cardiovascular event by more than 30%
  • High levels of physical activity led to greater risk reductions

"The role of physical activity in preventing cardiovascular disease (CVD) in people of working age is well established," said Professor Riitta Antikainen, from the University of Oulu, Finland. "But relatively little is known about the effect of regular physical activity on CVD risk in older people."

The researchers used self-administered questionnaires to collect physical activity data, and classified the self-reported physical activity as:

  • Low: reading, watching TV or working in the household without much physical activity.
  • Moderate: walking, cycling or practising other forms of light exercise (fishing, gardening, hunting) at least four hours per week.
  • High: recreational sports (for example running, jogging, skiing, gymnastics, swimming, ball games or heavy gardening) or intense training or sports competitions at least three hours a week.

During a follow-up of 11.8 years, 197 participants died from CVD and 416 had a first CVD event.

When the researchers assessed the link between physical activity and outcome they adjusted for other cardiovascular risk factors (blood pressure, smoking and cholesterol) and social factors (marital status and education). 

To minimise reverse causality, where worse health leads to less physical activity, patients with coronary heart disease, heart failure, cancer, or prior stroke at baseline were excluded from the analysis.

The investigators found that moderate and high leisure time physical activity were associated with a 31% and 45% reduced risk of an acute CVD event, respectively.

Moderate and high leisure time physical activity were associated with a 54% and 66% reduction in CVD mortality.

Professor Antikainen said: "Our study provides further evidence that older adults who are physically active have a lower risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, and death from cardiovascular disease." 

The protective effect of leisure time physical activity is dose dependent - in other words, the more you do, the better.

"Activity is protective even if you have other risk factors for cardiovascular disease such as high cholesterol."

She concluded: "Physical exercise may become more challenging with ageing. However, it is important for older people to still get enough safe physical activity to stay healthy after their transition to retirement."

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