For older people who have some trouble getting around, even light activity like household chores may be better for the heart than no activity, according to a new U.S. study.
Researchers profiled seniors' risk of heart disease complications - including heart attack - over a 10-year period and found their risk rose along with the amount of time they were inactive each day. Conversely, the more active time they had - regardless of intensity - the lower their risk.
“If you can spend less of your time being sedentary and just incorporate more activity – even light activity - in your day that can translate to benefits,” said Thomas Buford, the study’s senior author, from the University of Florida in Gainesville.
Buford and his colleagues from several institutions write in the Journal of the American Heart Association that physical activity is one of the best ways for people to improve their health and decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease and its complications.
Most of the studies suggesting physical activity focus on vigorous- or moderate-intensity activity, which may be unrealistic for some older people, especially those who have trouble getting up, moving around or balance issues, Buford said.
The researchers used data from a national trial that previously found physical activity helps people between 70 and 89 years old with mobility problems retain their ability to get around (see Reuters Health story of May 27, 2014 here: reut.rs/1FugmXX.)
The participants' activity levels were measured at the start of the trial by a device known as an accelerometer. Then researchers used a standard risk-factor checklist - including age, cholesterol, blood pressure and smoking status - to assess each person's likelihood of having heart complications over the next 10 years.
The researchers found that, on average, the 1,170 participants spent about 77 percent of their time being inactive. The majority of their remaining time was spent doing light activities like household chores.
Based on their calculations, the average risk of the participants having a complication from heart disease over the next 10 years was about 13 percent.
Overall, the seniors’ 10-year risk of complications from heart disease increased by about 1 percent for every 25 to 30 minutes they spent being inactive per day.
The risk of those same complications also decreased by about the same amount with every minute spent being active, even if that meant just moving around the house and doing chores.
“We need to follow up on this data more, but it’s promising to say maybe incorporating more of these light activities and sitting less is tied to cardiovascular benefits,” Buford said.
One of the limitations of the study is that the results don’t prove that inactivity causes heart attacks or other complications from heart disease, the researchers write.
“I think the study kind of confirms what we’ve always believed,” said Dr. David Frid, who was not involved with the research. “As everybody gets older, we know their cardiovascular risk goes up and the more active they remain it’s going to reduce their overall cardiovascular risk.”
In general though, older people can try to be a bit more active, but they should check with their doctor before starting an exercise program that involves things like running on a treadmill or pedaling a bike, said Frid, a cardiologist in the Cleveland Clinic’s Section of Preventive Cardiology.
“Just getting up and walking a bit more or doing a little more housework shouldn’t’ be that much of an increased medical risk,” he said.