News & Insights 21 February 2022

Twenty minutes of activity a day in your 70s can prevent heart disease in your 80s

A new study has found that just 20 minutes a day of moderate to vigorous activity in your 70s can half the risk of suffering from heart disease in your 80s. Researchers at the University of Padua and the University of Ferrara, both in Italy, reviewed health data from a sample of 2500 people aged 65 or older, over the course of 20 years, or until they died. They found that, on average, increased physical activity was associated with lower rates of cardiovascular disease (CVD). This association between increased physical activity and the reduced risk of CVD is already well established, however, little is known about the impact of increasing physical activity later in life.

The study found that those who undertook 20-40 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity in their early 70s (aged 70-75) saw the greatest benefit and were significantly less likely to develop heart disease. The risk was only marginally lower at the age of 75, and no lower at the age of 80-85, suggesting that improving physical activity earlier into retirement is where you will gain the largest positive impact. These findings reinforce the idea of “better late than never” when it comes to physical activity, but also show the earlier you start, the better.

This does not mean that there is no point to increasing your physical activity in your 80s, as there are countless benefits associated with increasing physical activity later in life. For example, increasing bone density, maintaining a healthy weight and keeping you mentally alert.

While these risk reductions were strongest amongst men, the researchers also emphasised that: “Women doing more physical activity had consistently lower incidence rates of almost all cardiovascular outcomes”. So, for both men and women, being physically active is an effective way to reduce your risk of CVD.

Although moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity may sound daunting, this study pointed to activities such as walking, fishing and bowls as moderate activity, and activities such as gardening, cycling, dancing and swimming as vigorous activity. This means that just by going for a short walk for 20-40 minutes every day, you could be actively reducing your risk of developing heart disease.

In a linked editorial, researchers explained the mechanisms behind how physical activity reduces the risk of CVD. It improves arterial blood flow by reducing the thickness of the blood and reduces the chance of blood clots forming, but most importantly, “the favourable effect of [physical activity] may be simply explained by its capability of slowing down the atherosclerosis process through a better control of blood pressure, blood glucose level, and lipid profile.”

They also added that “movement is medicine, and that even a small amount of [physical activity] may confer beneficial effects in older people, but if undertaken early rather than late.”

Here at KiActiv®, we have worked with many older clients to empower them to self-manage their health and improve their physical activity in a personalised way. Indeed, for many older adults, physical activity is something that is often feared due to lack of confidence and risk of injury, and there is a common misconception that for physical activity to be valuable it must be intense. As such, understanding that physical activity is more than just exercise and sport, and that every move matters, is vital for empowering effective self-management.

So, if you want to make the change to a healthier lifestyle, the more movement you can incorporate into your everyday routine, the more you will be doing to reduce your risk of developing CVD as you get older. It is never too late to start being active, but the sooner you can the better!

The KiActiv® Team