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‘Movement is medicine’: Daily exercise can help older adults avoid heart disease, study shows

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Padua, Italy — Proving that it’s better late than never, Italian researchers have concluded that 20 minutes a day of moderate to vigorous exercise in early old age (70-75) can help ward off major heart disease after 80.

Researchers at the University of Padua reviewed data from the Progetto Veneto Anziani, a study of nearly 2,800 Italian men and women 65 and older. The participants underwent baseline health and medical history assessments between 1995 and 1997, and follow-ups were conducted four and seven years later.

Using mortality and hospital discharge records, the researchers studied the participants through 2018. Although increasing exercise earlier in life is most valuable to heart health, findings show that ramping up activity levels around age 70 was associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular outcomes later in life. This was evident among both men and women who were physically active later in life, with the greatest reduction linked to coronary heart disease and heart failure in old age.

 

Participants who did 20-40 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity daily saw the biggest benefits. Moderate activities included walking and fishing, while vigorous activities were defined as dancing, swimming, cycling and gym workouts.

“Movement is medicine late in life,” write the researchers, who encourage public health officials to promote physical activity in mid- and early late life to effectively reduce cardiovascular risks. “Even a small amount of physical activity may confer beneficial effects in older people.”

The study was published online Feb. 16 in Heart, the journal of the British Cardiovascular Society.

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