Physical activity is a cornerstone of good health. Not only does exercise reduce risk for heart disease and other serious conditions, it boosts energy and has been shown to promote mental health. However, few studies have evaluated the effect of physical activity on elderly adults, begging the question: Are we ever too old to benefit from exercise?
To assess the relationship between exercise and cardiovascular risk in elderly adults, researchers analyzed data from the Cardiovascular Health Study. This study followed more than 4,200 U.S. adults from 1989–1999, assessing health and lifestyle and tracking key outcomes like heart attack and death. On average, participants were 73 years old and free of heart disease at the start of the study.
During ten years of follow-up, there were 1,182 heart events including heart attack, stroke and heart related deaths. After analysis, researchers found that higher and more vigorous levels of physical activity were associated with significantly lower risk for heart events, even in adults over 75 years old. For example, individuals who walked at faster speeds or for longer periods of time had lower cardiovascular risk than those who didn’t. In fact, adults that walked faster than three miles an hour were half as likely to suffer a stroke or heart event as those who walked under two miles an hour.
Study findings, which were published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation, suggest that we’re truly never too old to benefit from exercise. In fact, authors explain that it’s just the opposite.
Since exercise becomes more difficult in older age, even light forms of exercise like walking become increasingly important. The more elderly adults do to stay active, the lower their risk for heart events like heart attack and stroke.
However, it’s important that older adults work with their doctor before starting a new exercise routine. Although walking is generally safe for most adults, it’s best to check with a doctor to help prevent injury or any other complications.