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Moderate physical activity linked with 50 percent reduction in cardiovascular death in over-65s

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Rome, Italy – 27 Aug 2016: Moderate physical activity is associated with a greater than 50% reduction in cardiovascular death in over-65s, according to research presented at ESC Congress 2016 today.1 The 12 year study in nearly 2500 adults aged 65 to 74 years found that moderate physical activity reduced the risk of an acute cardiovascular event by more than 30%. High levels of physical activity led to greater risk reductions.

"The role of physical activity in preventing cardiovascular disease (CVD) in people of working age is well established," said Professor Riitta Antikainen, professor of geriatrics at the University of Oulu, Finland. "But relatively little is known about the effect of regular physical activity on CVD risk in older people."

The present study assessed the association between leisure time physical activity and CVD risk and mortality in 2456 men and women aged 65 to 74 years who were enrolled into the National FINRISK Study between 1997 and 2007.

Baseline data collection included self-administered questionnaires on physical activity and other health related behaviour, clinical measurements (blood pressure, weight and height), and laboratory measurements including serum cholesterol. Participants were followed up until the end of 2013. Deaths were recorded from the National Causes of Death Register and incident CVD events (coronary heart disease and stroke) were collected from the National Hospital Discharge register.

The researchers classified self-reported physical activity as:

  • Low: reading, watching TV or working in the household without much physical activity.
  • Moderate: walking, cycling or practising other forms of light exercise (fishing, gardening, hunting) at least four hours per week.
  • High: recreational sports (for example running, jogging, skiing, gymnastics, swimming, ball games or heavy gardening) or intense training or sports competitions at least three hours a week.

During a median follow-up of 11.8 years, 197 participants died from CVD and 416 had a first CVD event.

When the researchers assessed the link between physical activity and outcome they adjusted for other cardiovascular risk factors (blood pressure, smoking and cholesterol) and social factors (marital status and education). To minimise reverse causality, where worse health leads to less physical activity, patients with coronary heart disease, heart failure, cancer, or prior stroke at baseline were excluded from the analysis.

The investigators found that moderate and high leisure time physical activity were associated with a 31% and 45% reduced risk of an acute CVD event, respectively (figure 1). Moderate and high leisure time physical activity were associated with a 54% and 66% reduction in CVD mortality.

Professor Antikainen said: "Our study provides further evidence that older adults who are physically active have a lower risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, and death from cardiovascular disease. The protective effect of leisure time physical activity is dose dependent – in other words, the more you do, the better. Activity is protective even if you have other risk factors for cardiovascular disease such as high cholesterol."

She concluded: "Physical exercise may become more challenging with ageing. However, it is important for older people to still get enough safe physical activity to stay healthy after their transition to retirement."

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Figure 1. Relative risk of cardiovascular disease events and death according to physical activity level

Notes to editors

Sources of funding: The study was funded by the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), Finland, and supported by a grant from the Finnish Foundation for Cardiovascular Research.

Disclosures: None

Acknowledgments: Authors of the present study are Noël C. Barengo, Riitta Antikainen, Katja Borodulin, Kennet Harald and Pekka Jousilahti. The study was conducted in collaboration with Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine, Florida International University, Miami, USA, Center for life course health research/geriatrics, Faculty of Medicine, University of Oulu, Oulu, Finland and Department of Health, National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), Helsinki, Finland.

References and notes

1Professor Riitta Liisa Antikainen will present the abstract "Leisure time physical activity reduces the risk of cardiovascular death and an acute CVD event also among older adults" during:

  • The press conference "The cardiovascular risks of modern life" on 27 August at 12:30 to 13:30
  • The session "One to ten in exercise, physical activity and cardiology" on 27 August at 13:30 to 15:00 in Agora 1 – Poster Area

About the European Society of Cardiology

The European Society of Cardiology brings together health care professionals from more than 120 countries, working to advance cardiovascular medicine and help people lead longer, healthier lives.

About ESC Congress 2016

ESC Congress is the world's largest gathering of cardiovascular professionals contributing to global awareness of the latest clinical trials and breakthrough discoveries. ESC Congress 2016 takes place 27 to 31 August at the Fiera di Roma in Rome, Italy. The scientific programme is here. More information is available from the ESC Press Office at [email protected]

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