get moving and maintain adequate activity to obtain significant benefits to heart health and life expectancy.
“The routine assessment and promotion of physical activity should become a standard in health care,” he notes.
The benefits of regular physical activity
For the study, Amidei’s team collected data on close to 3,100 Italian seniors who took part in a mid-1990s study. It began in 1995 and 1997, and follow-up was done four and seven years later. Participants answered questions about their physical activity levels at each assessment.
Moderate physical activity included walking, bowling and fishing. Vigorous physical activity included gardening, gym workouts, cycling, dancing and swimming. Those who exercised 20 or more minutes a day were defined as active and those who did less were considered inactive.
The researchers also gathered information on income, education, smoking and drinking. They tracked the health of all participants via hospital records and death certificates through the end of 2018.
In all, complete data were available for more than 2,700 participants, of whom 60% were women. Throughout the study, more than 1,000 participants were diagnosed with heart disease, heart failure or stroke.
Increasing levels of exercise and maintaining an active lifestyle were tied with lower risks of heart disease and death in both men and women, researchers found.
The biggest reduction was seen for coronary heart disease and heart failure in late old age. No significant link between physical activity and stroke was seen.
Dr. Gregg Fonarow, director of the Ahmanson-University of California, Los Angeles, Cardiomyopathy Center, reviewed the findings.
“Regular physical activity has been associated with improved cardiovascular health, including lower risk of [heart attack], heart failure, stroke and premature cardiovascular death,” he says. “Studies have shown these associated benefits are seen across the lifespan in both men and women.”
It’s never too late
There are many ways physical activity can reduce the risk of heart disease and improve function, he says.
“These findings suggest that at every age, it is not too late to derive health benefits from physical activity,” Fonarow adds.
The American Heart Association recommends:
- At least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity — or a combination of both, preferably spread throughout the week.
- Moderate- to high-intensity muscle-strengthening activity, such as resistance or weights, at least two days per week.
- Sitting less. Light-intensity activity can offset some of the risks of being sedentary.
- Being active at least 300 minutes a week, for greater benefits.
- Increasing the amount and intensity of exercise gradually over time.