Everybody knows how important it is to stay active as you age. Unfortunately, people in the United States are exercising less and less despite the fact that regular physical inactivity can be considered deadly. While the risks are many, some of the main consequences of physical inactivity involve obesity and heart disease. When it comes to heart health in particular, a sedentary lifestyle can lead to high blood pressure, high cholesterol and more fat in the blood. These factors can have an even more detrimental effect on women and African Americans.
In a bit of good news, however, it’s been proven that just a small amount of physical activity can be beneficial. Unfortunately, these small amounts can be difficult for seniors with mobility issues. Now, a new study shows that even the lightest intensity exercise can be linked to better heart health for the elderly.
Every Minute Spent Being Active Can Help
To compile the new report, researchers at the University of Florida Institute on Aging analyzed data from the LIFE study, which aims to shed light on beneficial health practices for elderly people with mobile disabilities. The 1,170 people studied were aged 74 to 84 and were all able to walk 400 meters at a time despite also having mobility issues. Accelerometers were used to measure the amount of physical activity each person was engaging in at any given time. The accelerometers measured activity in “counts.” Counts were broken down like this:
- Sedentary behavior: 0-99 counts per minute
- Light activity such as slow walking: 100-499 counts per minute
- Moderate walking or similarly intense activity: 500 or more counts per minute
Researchers compared participants’ physical activity with their overall heart health risk factors such as blood pressure, age and cholesterol level. It was found that for every 30 minutes spent at 0-99 counts, the predicted risk of heart attack went up by one percent. Heart disease risks were lower due to a higher presence of HDL (“good”) cholesterol in those who spent more time at the 100-499 level. Participants usually only reached 500 counts or more for about one hour per day.
Reducing Elderly Sedentary Time
It’s often been thought that people with mobility issues should try to get a regimented amount of physical activity, no matter how light, every day. However, this new study suggest that the real culprit is prolonged physical inactivity. There’s a small but important difference here; basically, it’s better for heart health to get small amounts of activity throughout the day than to spend all day sitting and one hour doing something physical.
The 100-499 level of activity only included light housework or slow walking. Daily activities such as gardening, shopping, running errands, playing with small children, and carrying groceries might allow an elderly person to maintain that light but important level of activity. Looking into local exercise programs for the elderly can also be of great benefit. Local health professionals can provide many great options for people with mobile disabilities to still get some activity throughout the day.
Elderly Heart Health: The Bottom Line
If you or someone you love has mobility issues and is becoming sedentary as they age, it could be effective for their heart health to maintain even a low level of physical activity throughout the day as much as possible. Of course, it’s also incredibly important to consult a doctor before making any major changes in the amount of physical activity you or a loved one decide to take on.