Getting Older? You’d Better Keep Walking

by Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN on September 29, 2016 · 0 comments

At every age we are encouraged to be active. As we get older, walking is a common physical activity that most can continue. We are told that activity is a major factor in lowering the risk for heart disease. Since over 42 million adults in the US, over the age of 60, have heart disease, if walking could reduce this risk it would be an excellent behavior to encourage. Yet few studies have evaluated whether exercise actually does reduce heart disease risk for older adults and most prior studies, on which recommendations are based, have been done on middle-aged subjects, those 45 to 60 years old.

A recent study followed the physical activity patterns of over 4,200 men and women who were approximately 72 years old for 10 years. None of the participants had heart disease at the beginning of the study but almost 1,200 cardiac events occurred during the study. The researchers determined that those who continued to be active, especially those who walked regularly, their risk for heart disease and stroke went down.

Those who walked briskly, at 3 mph, had a 50% lower risk for heart disease and stroke than those who walked at less than 2 mph. The distance walked also contributed to a lower risk. For those that walked about 49 blocks per week their risk was significantly lower than those who walked less. If the walkers additionally participated in leisure activity such as gardening their risk went down even further.

This is the first time that a study with a large number of older adults demonstrated that physical activity over time can lower the risk for heart disease and stroke. The American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association recommend that older adults engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise on most days of the week. This study offers positive evidence that this advice, in particular walking, can improve the health of those 70 and older.

 

 

 

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