Pick up walking pace to be heart healthy

Walking a little faster or for a few extra blocks may be good for older adults’ hearts, according to a new study.

In the large prospective community-based study of older Americans, modest physical activity was associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD). This was true even among men and women older than age 75 at baseline – a rapidly growing population for whom regular activity has been advised, but with little supportive empirical evidence.

Led by senior author Dariush Mozaffarian, the Tufts University researchers found that after adjustment for other risk factors and lifestyle behaviors, those who were more active had significantly lower risk of future heart attacks and stroke.

Adults who walked at a pace faster than three miles per hour (mph) had a 50 percent, 53percent, 50percent lower risk of coronary heart disease (CHD), stroke and total CVD, respectively, compared to those who walked at a pace of less than two mph.

Those who walked an average of seven blocks per day or more had a 36percent, 54percent and 47percent lower risk of CHD, stroke and total CVD, respectively, compared to those who walked up to five blocks per week.

Those who engaged in leisure activities such as lawn-mowing, raking, gardening, swimming, biking and hiking, also had a lower risk of CHD, stroke and total CVD, compared to those who did not engage in leisure-time activities.

The findings were similar in both men and women, in those above or below age 75 at baseline, and including only those with similarly good or excellent self-reported health.

Mozaffarian noted that these results are especially relevant because, with advancing age, the ability to perform vigorous types of activity often decreases. These support the importance of continuing light to moderate exercise to improve health across the lifespan.

The study appears in Circulation.