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Heart Health

12 June 2020

Seniors, getting off the sofa brings big health benefits

Taking more steps per day is achievable, and step counts are an easy-to-understand way to measure how much we are moving.

Physical activity may help seniors live longer and healthier – and exercise doesn't have to be intense, two new studies say.

"Finding a way to physically move more in an activity that suits your capabilities and is pleasurable is extremely important for all people, and especially for older people who may have risk factors for cardiovascular diseases," said Barry Franklin, past chair of the American Heart Association's Council on Physical Activity and Metabolism.

Even light exercise beneficial

Brisk walking, for example, can help manage high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and improve blood sugar, Franklin said in an AHA news release.

Here's the evidence:

One study of more than 1 200 US adults, average age 69, found that those who did at least 150 minutes a week in moderate to vigorous physical activity were 67% less likely to die of any cause during the study period than those who didn't do that amount of exercise.

However, even light exercise was beneficial. Each 30-minute session of light-intensity physical activity – such as household chores or casual walking – was associated with a 20% lower risk of death from any cause.

In comparison, each additional 30 minutes of inactivity was associated with a 32% higher risk of death from any cause, according to the study.

The results were scheduled for presentation at an American Heart Association meeting, in Phoenix.

"Promoting light-intensity physical activity and reducing sedentary time may be a more practical alternative among older adults," said study author Joowon Lee, a researcher at Boston University.

Many inexpensive devices

The other study – also scheduled to be presented at the AHA meeting – included more than 6 000 U.S. women, average age 79.

Those who walked 2 100 to 4 500 steps a day were up to 38% less likely to die from heart attack, heart failure and stroke than those who took fewer than 2 100 steps a day.

Those who walked more than 4 500 steps a day reduced their risk by 48%, according to the study.

"Despite popular beliefs, there is little evidence that people need to aim for 10 000 steps daily to get cardiovascular benefits from walking. Our study showed that getting just over 4 500 steps per day is strongly associated with reduced risk of dying from cardiovascular disease in older women," said study lead author Andrea LaCroix, a professor and chief of epidemiology at the University of California, San Diego.

Up and about

"Taking more steps per day, even just a few more, is achievable, and step counts are an easy-to-understand way to measure how much we are moving," LaCroix said in the release.

She said there are many inexpensive wearable devices on the market.

"Our research shows that older women reduce their risk of heart disease by moving more in their daily life, including light activity and taking more steps. Being up and about, instead of sitting, is good for your heart," LaCroix said.

Data and conclusions presented at meetings are usually considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

Image credit: iStock