Moderate to vigorous exercise for 20 minutes a day could lower the long-term risk of heart disease, according to a new paper in the journal Heart.
The study finds that people aged between 70-75 who exercise more have lower chances of developing heart disease well past 80.
The study relies on data from a long-term survey of 3,099 Italians, all aged 65 and older.
The cohort first had their health examined from 1995-1997, with follow-ups four and seven years afterwards. Each assessment included surveys on their physical activity, as well as social and demographic data. Participants also had their medical histories taken, blood tests, and a range of other physical assessments.
The researchers linked this data to hospital and mortality records, up until 2018. The final cohort included 2,754 participants, with 1,037 diagnoses of heart disease, heart failure, and stroke between them.
While the researchers couldn’t find any patterns related to stroke, those who did at least 20 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise daily had a significantly lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
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The pattern was most significant in those who were exercising at this level at 70-75 years of age. Above 75, and particularly above 80, beginning more regular exercise was less beneficial.
The researchers emphasise that since the study is observational, it can’t show that exercise is causing better heart health. There may be a separate cause linking the two things, or possibly people with better cardiovascular health do more exercise. It also relies on self-reported data, and so may not be as reliable as other measures.
However, they say that the link they’ve found is very strong, and takes into account a range of medical and social factors.
“Consistency of results across all sensitivity analyses further suggests the robustness of the main results,” write the researchers.
Ellen Phiddian is a science journalist at Cosmos. She has a BSc (Honours) in chemistry and science communication, and an MSc in science communication, both from the Australian National University.
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