Exercise reduces heart disease deaths by over 50%

The evidence to back up the exercise-is-good-for-you mantra keeps on mounting up, with a recent report from the European Society of Cardiology adding more weight to the argument. According to their research, moderate physical activity is associated with a greater than 50% reduction in cardiovascular death in the over-65s.

The study, which took twelve years to complete and analysed the data of 2,500 adults from the ages of 65 to 74, estimates that moderate physical activity reduced the risk of an acute cardiovascular event by more than 30% – and high levels of physical activity led to greater risk reductions. We already know the benefits of physical activity amongst people of working age: that those benefits can still be reaped well in to retirement age is of increasing importance as we take into consideration our rapidly ageing population.

From the gym to the garden

Naturally, the concept of ‘physical activity’ is scaled down for people of retirement age – but not as much as one would assume. According to the researchers, their idea of physical activity in later years is as follows:

  • Low: reading, watching TV or working in the household without much physical activity.
  • Moderate: walking, cycling or practising other forms of light exercise (fishing, gardening, etc) at least four hours per week.
  • High: recreational sports (running, jogging, skiing, gymnastics, swimming, ball games or heavy gardening) or intense training or sports competitions at least three hours a week.

The research took on board cardiovascular factors such as blood pressure, smoking and cholesterol and social factors such as marital status and education, while instances of reverse causality – where worse health leads to less physical activity – led to patients with coronary heart disease, heart failure, cancer, or prior stroke at baseline being excluded from the analysis.

“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,” said team leader Professor Riitta Antikainen, Professor of Geriatrics at the University of Oulu, Finland. “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."

You can’t retire from living well

All this goes to show that exercise isn’t just something you do to look good in an age where physical appearance matters. It’s been proven beyond doubt that physical activity can boost self-esteem, mood, sleep quality and energy, as well as reducing your risk of stress, depression, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. But the idea that those benefits can extend well into your later years means that regular exercise shouldn’t be dropped, even when you stop working.

As well as boosting heart health, keeping fit and well is especially important for those suffering from arthritis. Thought to affect 49% of women and 42% of men aged 75 and over in the UK, the pain and discomfort associated with osteoarthritis can make even the lightest activities seem an impossibility, but it can make a significant difference to managing the condition.

"Physical exercise may become more challenging with ageing,” says Professor Antikainen. “However, it is important for older people to still get enough safe physical activity to stay healthy after their transition to retirement."