A generally active life, even without
regular exercise sessions, is tied to better heart health and greater longevity
in a study of older Swedes.
Based on nearly 3 900 men and women over
the age of 60 in Stockholm, the study adds to evidence suggesting that just sitting
around may be actively harmful, researchers say.
Elin Ekblom-Bak, of the Åstrand Laboratory of Work Physiology of the Swedish
School of Sport and Health Sciences in Stockholm said: "We have known for 60
years that physical activity is important for the heart,"
But until recently the research has mainly
focused on exercise and has "forgotten" about the background activity
that we do every day, she said.
Whether someone exercises vigorously or
not, it usually takes up a few hours of the day. That leaves
the rest of the time for sitting still or engaging in non-exercise activities,
like home repairs, lawn care and gardening, car maintenance, hunting or
For older people, who tend to exercise
less vigorously than younger people, spending more time doing low-intensity
activities like the above could help cut down on sitting time, Ekblom-Bak and her
colleagues write in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
Between 1997 and 1999, more than 5 000
60-year-olds were invited to participate in the study, which began with a
questionnaire about health history, lifestyle and daily activities, as well as
medical tests and measurements.
At the study's outset, people who were more
active on a daily basis, regardless of their exercise levels, tended to have
smaller waists and healthier cholesterol levels.
The participants were followed for the next
12.5 years. During that time nearly 500 people had a first-time heart attack or
stroke and nearly 400 people died.
People who had reported high levels of
daily non-exercise activity were less likely to suffer a heart-related event
and less likely to die than those who were the least active.
For every 100 people reporting low activity
levels who had a heart attack or stroke, for example, only 73 highly active
people experienced such events. For every 100 of the least active who died,
only 70 of the most active did.
"These are fascinating findings,"
said David Dunstan, of the Baker IDI Heart & Diabetes Institute in
Melbourne, Australia, "but not really surprising since other studies that
have looked at this from a different angle - that is, describing the
detrimental relationship between excessive sitting and mortality outcomes - are
essentially showing the same thing but in reverse because there is such a high
correlation between sitting time and non- exercise physical activity
more and sit less
"While sitting, muscles do not
contract and blood flow decreases, which reduces the efficiency of many body
processes, like absorbing glucose from the blood, said Dunstan, who studies
heart health and exercise.
Non-exercise activity likely prevents the
general slowing-down associated with sitting, he said."Moderate-to-vigorous exercise helps strengthen the heart
muscle and other body muscles and may help regulate blood pressure more than
general activity, Dunstan said.