Moderate physical activity can reduce the risk of an acute cardiovascular event by more than 30% in adults over the age of 65 years, says a new study. The 12-year study included 2500 adults aged 65 to 74 years.
"The role of physical activity in preventing cardiovascular disease (CVD) in people of working age is well established," said Professor Riitta Antikainen, professor of geriatrics at the University of Oulu, Finland. "But relatively little is known about the effect of regular physical activity on CVD risk in older people."
The present study assessed the association between leisure time physical activity and CVD risk and mortality in 2456 men and women aged 65 to 74 years who were enrolled into the National FINRISK Study between 1997 and 2007.
The researchers classified self-reported physical activity as:
Low: Reading, watching TV or working in the household without much physical activity. Moderate: Walking, cycling or practicing 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 median 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 the outcome they adjusted for other cardiovascular risk factors (blood pressure, smoking, and cholesterol) and social factors (marital status and education). To minimize 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 aging. However, it is important for older people to get still enough safe physical activity to stay healthy after their transition to retirement."