Exercise is the secret for avoiding heart disease as you age. But how much exercise do you need in your later years? In a first-of-its-kind study, researchers in Italy claim to have found the answer.
Researchers looked at data from a study involving 3,099 Italians, aged 65 and older.
Between the years 1995 and 1997, medical teams examined the participants by taking medical histories, performing physical exams, health scans, and blood tests. Then, four and seven years later, they performed additional medical assessments. Medical teams continued tracking the participants’ overall health until 2018.
At each juncture, participants self-reported their physical activity. Moderate activities included walking, bowling, and fishing. The vigorous exercise included gym workouts, dancing, and swimming.
Those participants who logged 20 minutes or more a day were dubbed active; those who fell below this level were defined as inactive.
To further differentiate the groups, changes in physical activity patterns were defined as: stable-low (inactive-inactive); high-decreasing (active-inactive); low-increasing (inactive-active); and stable-high (active-active).
What did researchers discover?
Getting to the Heart of Exercise
Researchers found that increasing levels of physical activity and maintaining an active lifestyle were associated with lower risks of cardiovascular disease and death in both men and women.
The lion’s share of the study participants reported active physical activity patterns over time, which were associated with a 52 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease among men compared with participants with stable-low (inactive-inactive) patterns.
But the researchers’ final conclusion is even more motivation to engage in daily exercise…
They found that the greatest risk reduction in heart disease from an active lifestyle occurs at the age of 70. In fact, the risk of heart disease for the active participants was only slightly lower at the age of 75 and not lower between the ages of 80 to 85.
This suggests that improving physical activity earlier in old age might offer the most bang for your huffing and puffing.
What’s more, while male participants displayed the strongest link between exercise and heart health benefits that certainly doesn’t discount the value of exercise for women.
“Women doing more physical activity had consistently lower incidence rates of almost all cardiovascular outcomes despite the fact that the risk reduction did not reach statistical significance,” the authors write. “But when considering overall mortality, risks were significantly reduced.”
So, what does this mean?
20 Minutes of Exercise Every Day
Twenty minutes of daily exercise – be it moderate or vigorous – in early old age (ages 70 to 75) can reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke—as well as lots of other deadly health problems— in late old age (age 80+).
The study authors concluded that at least 20 minutes of daily moderate to vigorous physical activity “should be recommended to achieve the greatest cardiovascular benefits.”
The study authors also write that “movement is medicine” at any age. Even a small amount of [physical activity] may confer beneficial effects in older people, but if undertaken early rather than late,” they conclude.
I couldn’t agree more.
Until now, not many studies have examined whether exercise in later life can help ward off heart disease in older age. This new research adds yet another arrow to the “better late than never” exercise quiver.
The Italian researchers published the groundbreaking new study in the journal Heart.1
Beginning a New Exercise Routine
I like to think of my daily hour-long walk as my exercise multivitamin. I’ve been doing it for so many years, I can’t remember when I didn’t walk.
But what if you’ve never fancied exercise or are sporadic in your efforts? There’s no time like the present to start moving!
If you’re wondering what the difference is between moderate and vigorous exercise, it’s all about the “talk test.”2
Moderate-intensity activity should increase your heart rate and make you breathe a little harder than at rest. You can talk but not sing during the activity.
On the other hand, during vigorous-intensity exercise, you will not be able to say more than a few words without pausing for a breath.
Either intensity is beneficial. It’s not a bad idea to check in first with a trusted healthcare provider or a certified fitness trainer to determine what type of exercise is right for you.
I’d also add that it’s a great idea to recruit a friend or family member to join you in your new exercise routine. You’ll have someone to be accountable to and the frequent social interaction is healthy, too! It’s a win-win.