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  • Study: Even Small Amounts of PA Can Reduce CVD Risk Among the Elderly

    It's no secret that physical activity (PA) can decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) in middle-aged adults, but researchers in England have found that the relationship also applies to the elderly, and that even small amounts of PA can markedly lower the chances of CVD hospitalization and death in this age group.

    Researchers used data from the EPIC study, a 10-country prospective population study, to track CVD-related hospitalizations and deaths among 24,502 participants, aged 39-79 years, and compare those with participants' self-reported PA. This isn't the first study of its kind, but authors believe it is notable because of its focus on participants 65 and older, and its 18-year median follow-up duration—a relatively long time span that allowed researchers to follow some participants into old age. Findings were published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.

    Participants were divided into 3 age groups: 54 and younger, 55-65, and over 65. Individuals were then placed into a category of "inactive," "moderately inactive," "moderately active," and "active" based on self-reported levels of PA. Researchers tracked the participants for CVD-related hospitalizations and deaths that included events related to coronary heart disease (CHD) as well as stroke.

    A CVD event occurred in 5,240 of the 24,502 participants, with 4,450 events related to CHD and 1,231 events related to stroke. Among age groupings, the under-55 group experienced 874 CVD events, the 55-65 group experienced 1,650 events, and the over-65 group experienced 2,716 events.

    When researchers compared the data with reported levels of PA, they found that among the over-65 group, the chances of experiencing a CVD event were reduced by 12% for the active participants, 13% for the moderately active individuals, and 14% among the moderately inactive, compared with the inactive group. The 55-65 group showed reductions of 16% for the active, 1% for the moderately active, and 11% for the moderately inactive. In the youngest group, active, moderately active, and moderately inactive resulted in a reduction of 5%, 15%, and no reduction, respectively. The results were adjusted for socioeconomic status, age, sex, smoking status, blood pressure, diabetes, BMI, and cholesterol levels.

    "Elderly people appeared to benefit at least comparably from PA compared to middle-aged individuals regarding the risk of CVD," authors write, adding that "even those participants who were moderately inactive had a substantially lower CVD risk than those who were completely inactive." They believe the findings point to the possibility that "even modest engagement in PA may be associated with a substantially lower CVD risk in the elderly."

    The researchers believe the data support World Health Organization recommendations for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity PA per week, or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity PA per week, but add that the nature of the self-reports used in their study widens the lens through which PA is viewed. Because the EPIC study asks about PA during leisure, work, and transportation, authors were able to obtain a more comprehensive perspective and, from that perspective, were able to see the effects of even small levels of PA.

    "These observations suggest that in order to achieve cardiovascular health benefits from PA, elderly people should be encouraged to engage in at least some PA of low level," authors write. "These findings indicate that health benefits are not restricted to those engaging in vigorous intensity PA."

     Research-related stories featured in PT in Motion News are intended to highlight a topic of interest only and do not constitute an endorsement by APTA. For synthesized research and evidence-based practice information, visit the association's PTNow website.

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